Inside your body, right now, cannabinoids are being produced, secreted, and absorbed. This occurs to help regulate every major system in your body. It’s also happening in the body of your pet, and every single vertebrate animal on planet Earth, including reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals. Yet most people have never heard of this system, since it was only discovered about 30 years ago.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the endocrine system. You know, the system of glands and hormones that regulates nearly every aspect of your body…? Well, the ‘endo’ in endocrine simply means that it is produced within the body and used by the body. This is the same with the Endocannabinoid System (or ECS).
“Our endocannabinoid system regulates everything in our body,” Dr. Melamede Ph.D. contends.
“Our immune system, digestive system, cardiovascular system, nervous system, endocrine system, skin, skeleton; Everything in our body is homeostatically regulated by our ECS. And yet, it’s not taught in medical school? There’s something a little flawed here!”
So let’s dive in and learn more about this amazing system inside all of us!
CB1 and CB2 are Inside You
To date, researchers have identified at least two types of cannabinoid receptors on living cells. They have been named, appropriately: Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CB1) and Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2).
CB1 receptors are found mostly on neurons and nerve cells. They are the most abundant g-coupled receptor found in the human brain. It is these CB1 receptors which are responsible for the ‘psychedelic’ effects that THC has when it’s consumed. It is also these CB1 receptors which allow cannabis to effectively treat disorders such as seizures, or neuropathic pain.
CB2 receptors are found primarily outside the brain in such places as the gut, spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands and reproductive organs. CB2 receptors are also very abundant throughout the immune system and on immune cells. Something worth noting is that CB2 receptors can appear, seemingly on demand, in response to injury or inflammation. Researchers found that injured or inflamed tissue samples spontaneously increased their CB2 receptors by 1000%; as if the injured cells were desperately searching for cannabinoids to help repair themselves and reduce inflammation.
It is no wonder, then, that the US government filed a patent in 1998 on “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants”. It was abundantly clear 2 decades ago that cannabinoids are nature’s way of protecting living cells from free radicals and injury.
How Your ECS Works
Cannabinoids appear to work completely differently in our brains and neurons than any other known substance.
Imagine you have two people talking: a speaker and a listener. Now let’s simulate a drug like morphine on this conversation. Unknown to the speaker, someone has put ear plugs in the ears of the listener. The speaker keeps talking, but the listener doesn’t hear a word.
Maybe the speaker would start to speak louder, trying to be heard. Maybe they would scream, shout, and wear themselves out trying to be heard by the listener – but all to no effect, since the listener has ear plugs in.
Instead, let’s simulate cannabis on this conversation: Rather than blocking the listener from hearing, we go directly to the speaker and tell them ‘the message was heard, stop speaking for a bit.’
Now there is no miscommunication, and there is no wasted effort. The speaker simply knows that the listener doesn’t want to listen right now, and so stops trying. This is why cannabis is so effective at treating pain and inflammation. It doesn’t block the pain signal from being “heard”, but rather it can tell pain neurons to quiet down and stop passing on their message.
This is due to another amazing feature of cannabinoids: retrograde signalling. What that complex term means is that cannabinoids give neurons the ability to ‘talk back,’ and that’s what enables the unique functions of our ECS. Unique to cannabinoids, they can travel backwards across a synapse and signal the firing neuron.
The endocannabinoid system allows receiving neurons to regulate their own incoming signals. Unlike conventional neurotransmitters, cannabinoids are neither excitatory (causing more stimulation) nor inhibitory (causing less stimulation) – yet at the same time they are both, since they modulate the incoming signal. Cannabinoids simply turn on or off other neurotransmitters, so if they act on an excitatory signal, they function as inhibitors. This is how they treat symptoms like chronic pain, post traumatic stress, and seizures. If they act on an inhibitory signal they function as stimulants, and this is how they treat symptoms like depression or lack of hunger.
Since this is a natural process in our nerve cells and neurons, cannabis based medicines are proving to be extremely effective. There is no lethal dose for any known cannabinoid. This is also due to another key feature of cannabinoids as neurotransmitters, as we will see later in this article.
Another key feature of the ECS is that cannabinoids are not pre-made and stored, waiting until needed. Rather, they are synthesized directly from the cell membrane ‘on demand’. This is both good news and bad news.
The good news is that your body is designed to produce as many endocannabinoids as it needs, whenever and wherever they are needed. The bad news is that producing these endocannabinoids (and their receptors) requires large amounts of quality fats, and in the proper balance; something most modern diets lack. One study showed that simply decreasing Omega-6 while increasing Omega-3 in your diet can reduce headaches and stress by encouraging your body to produce more endocannabinoids.
Even better news is that we don’t have to adjust our diets or wait for our bodies to adapt in order to enjoy the benefits from cannabinoids. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a natural phytocannabinoid (plant-derived cannabinoid) that perfectly mimics your body’s own endocannabinoids. Truly, it seems as if the cannabis plant is the perfect gift, since it contains many beneficial cannabinoids (144 at current count), and even the seeds (hemp seeds) have the perfect balance of essential fatty acids (omegas 3, 6, and 90) for your body to fuel and maintain its endocannabinoid system!
Homeostasis is the ability of a living organism to adapt to a changing environment (homeo means “the same” and stasis means “standing or staying”). Think of your home heating and AC: when it is too cold outside the heater comes on, and when it is too warm, the AC comes on. This is all to maintain a ‘homeostatic’ temperature inside.
Every living cell must maintain homeostasis, not just with temperature, but with pH, nutrient availability, and ion concentrations. In short, homeostasis in living organisms is what we call ‘health’. As it turns out, your ECS plays a major role in all of this: from controlling the function of the mitochondria inside every cell in your body, to maintaining and regulating your immune system.
But it’s not just humans. Researchers are finding that even living organisms as simple as a sea squirts have an endocannabinoid system. It seems as if complex life couldn’t exist without cannabinoids.
“Cannabinoids facilitate man’s interaction with his environment,” states Dr. Robert Melamede, Ph.D. “They counteract stress on a subcellular level, and on up the organizational complexity, beyond the level of individual consciousness, to include social consciousness.”
Cannabinoids cannot kill you. In fact, there is no known lethal dose for any cannabinoid. Drugs used in medicine are routinely given what is called an LD-50. The LD-50 rating indicates at what dosage fifty percent of test animals receiving a drug will die as a result of drug induced toxicity. A number of researchers have attempted to determine the LD-50 rating of various cannabinoids in test animals, without success. Simply stated, researchers have been unable to give animals enough cannabinoids to induce death.
The Endocannabinoid System is vital to life. Our modern diets often do not provide the ECS with the building blocks it needs to supply us with the endocannabinoids we require. In addition, stress, pollution, disease, and other factors tend to push us out of homeostasis.
It is for this reason that we need to care for ourselves by feeding our ECS. The cannabis plant, by chance or by design, may perfectly meet the needs of our own cannabinoid system.
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