- Did you know you have an Endocannabinoid System? By Stephen McCamman
- One Disease With a Thousand Faces: By Stephen McCamman
An introduction to your body’s biological World Wide Web
What happens in your body when you smoke or eat medical marijuana? In 1964, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam asked this same question after observing lab monkeys acting unusually mellow after being dosed with hash. Rumors that the monkeys ordered in pizza are still unconfirmed, but Mechoulam’s quest for answers led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (eCB) in the late 1980s. Named in honor of the cannabis plant, the eCB’s role in the body is to help many important systems and organs stay in balance, or maintain physiological homeostasis. In fact, some scientists think that a deficiency in the eCB is the root cause of a lot of issues, which explains why cannabis helps provide a healthier lifestyle.
What is the eCB?
Although researchers have uncovered the structure and functions of the eCB, more research and human studies are needed before doctors can use this knowledge in a clinical setting. What we do know is that the eCB is, in effect, a biochemical communication network of hormones, called endocannabinoids, and cell receptors, known as CB1 and CB2, that play an integral role in keeping a wide array of very important bodily functions such as sleep, digestion, relaxation, memory and neuroprotection operating within tight parameters. In other words, it keeps the bodily systems from either underperforming or overacting.
It helps to think of the eCB network as part of the body’s World Wide Web, a chemical language of healing and balance that tells the various systems and organs in the body — our biological Internet —how to respond to not only to negative stimulation such as stress but also to positive stimulation, such as exercise, massage and healthy eating.
Your Body’s Own Marijuana (Endocannabinoids)
First isolated in 1992, Anandamide and 2-AG, are called the ‘body’s marijuana’ due to their similarity in chemical structure to THC. Residing in the outer layer of certain cells, these endocannabinoids (endo meaning inside) are released when triggered by things for example exercise.
Called the Bliss Molecule because it causes a sense of well-being, Anandamide (AEA) attaches to the CB1 receptors in the brain and CB2 receptors in the peripheral nervous system. THC also attaches to this same receptor and is what causes you to feel high. AEA and THC play a key role in modulating pain, emotion, and hunger, thus the reason why some people get the munchies when they smoke marijuana. AEA has also been cited as the cause of the well-known runner’s high and small traces are found in chocolate, as if you need an excuse to nibble on some Godiva goodies.
2–Arachidonoylglycerol(2-AG), on the other hand, is found in the central nervous system and immune system and plays a critical role in controlling certain body functions. Scientists have suggested that other endocannabinoids exist but their function and role have yet to be fully understood.
CB1 and CB2 Receptors: Pathways into the cell
What happens when AEA and 2-AG are released in response to outside stimuli? As mentioned above, endocannabinoids attach to receptors on the cell wall that act as a conduit for the biochemical signals to get inside the cell. So far, scientists have identified several receptors in the eCB system – the most prominent being CB1 and CB2. CB2 receptors are located in the gut, often called our second brain, and the immune system, playing a critical role in promoting well-being.
The critical part is that once the endocannabinoid is attached to the receptor, it triggers a second messenger inside the cell and this is where the magic happens: the internal cell workings change in response, changing the internal chemistry of the cell. In the case of apoptosis, or cell death, the second messenger tells the cell to commit suicide. Again, scientists have not yet uncovered the entire scope of the receptor system, a third receptor TRPV1, for example, has recently been identified, and more research is required before we fully understand the number of receptors in the eCB.
Cannabis and Your eCB (phytocannabinoids)
Thankfully, nature has provided us with the cannabis plant, which has over 80 cannabinoids that supplement our own endocannabinoids, either as a food source or when smoked or eaten. The two most important are THC and CBD. THC goes directly to the CB1 and CB2 receptors as the endocannabinoids mentioned above. THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid that gets you high but also plays other important roles.
CBD, which is also found in Hemp, keeps your own endocannabinoid AEA available to the receptors, and exerts its health benefits through channels other than CB1 and CB2 receptors. Research is limited and other cannabinoids such as CBN, THCa, and CBG all offer optimised benefits –the scope and efficacy of which have yet to be fully understood.
By regulating the eCB with good nutrition and supplements —recall how the eCB is involved in numerous important physiological processes –– you can increase your sense of well-being and lead a healthy, balanced life.
This article has been heavily edited due to some of the claims made in it and so not to break the laws in the UK!
First published in February 2017 – Weed World magazine issue 126
Stephen McCamman is writing a book on nutrition and the Endocannabinoid System. He is also co-founder of the Clinical Endocannabinoid System Consortium.