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What is the Endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) refers to a collection of cell receptors and corresponding molecules. You can think of cell receptors like little locks on the surface of your cells. The keys to these locks are chemical molecules called agonists. Each time an agonist binds to a cell, it relays a message, giving your cell specific direction.

The endocannabinoid system is the name for a series of cell receptors that respond to certain kinds of agonists. Two primary cell receptors make up the ECS, Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CB1) and Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2). The keys for these receptors are called endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids are like the body’s natural THC. In fact, endocannabinoids got their name from cannabis. Plant cannabinoids were discovered first. Endo means within, and cannabinoid referring to a compound that fits into cannabinoid receptors.

There are two main endocannabinoid molecules, named anandamide and 2-Ag. Funny thing, scientists wouldn’t have discovered anandamide without THC. Psychoactive (THC) was first discovered by Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam back in the 1960s. His finding quickly spurred a rush to figure out how THC worked, and whether or not our own bodies produced a similar compound.

More than two decades after the search began, anandamide was found. Yet, once they isolated the chemical, they faced another challenge. What should it be called? They turned to Sanskrit. Anandamide comes from the Sanskrit word Ananda, which means bliss. Therefore, basically, anandamide means bliss molecule.

How Does CBD Affect the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system exists to respond to endogenous cannabinoids produced by the human body. However, scientists have learned that the system will also recognize and respond to cannabinoids from external sources, including the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol. According to the National Institute of Health, manipulating the endocannabinoid system by introducing external cannabinoids like CBD could be useful in treating a variety of medical ailments.

CBD and Cannabinoid Receptors

The endocannabinoid system includes two primary types of receptors that bind to cannabinoids: CB1 and CB2. Unlike THC, which fits directly into the CB1 receptor, CBD (cannabidiol) does not fit into either type of receptor perfectly. Instead, it stimulates activity in both receptors without actually binding to them. This results in changes within any cells that contain either receptor. Because CB1 and CB2 receptors are present throughout the body, the effects of CBD are systemic.

According to Project CBD, research has also shown that CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC by inhibiting its effects on CB1 receptors.

CBD's Indirect Effects on the Endocannabinoid System

When introduced into the endocannabinoid system, CBD causes an increased release of 2-AG, one of the endogenous cannabinoids. Like CBD, 2-AG stimulates both CB1 and CB2 receptors, which enhances the overall effect on the body. Studies published by the National Institute of Health have shown that cannabidiol also inhibits the activity of fatty acid amide hydroxylase, or FAAH. This slows the deterioration of anandamide, another important endogenous cannabinoid found naturally within the body.

Other Effects of CBD

In addition to its impact on the endocannabinoid system, CBD also affects the body in other ways. For example, CBD binds directly to a G-protein coupled receptor known as TRPV-1, which is responsible for mediating body temperature, perceptions of pain and inflammation. CBD also activates serotonin receptors. Furthermore, studies conducted by the California Pacific Medical Centre have shown that cannabidiol has the power to inhibit the ID-1 gene, which is known to cause several aggressive cancers, including certain cancers of the breast, brain, lungs, ovaries and pancreas.

Implications in Medicine

Cannabidiol’s impact on the endocannabinoid system, as well as its other effects on the human body, indicate that this substance may be useful in treating a variety of medical conditions. For example, the medical community has already identified that THC can be an effective treatment for multiple ailments, including the side effects of chemo. Because CBD inhibits the negative effects of THC, it makes sense that administering the two substances together could be even more beneficial than treatment with THC alone. Likewise, cannabidiol’s stimulation of the endocannabinoid system promotes homeostasis within the body, reduces sensations of pain and inhibits inflammatory processes. Finally, CBD’s effects on other genes and systems, such as its inhibition of the ID-1 gene, indicate that it may be an ideal treatment for certain types of effective cancers.

Medical research involving the possible uses of CBD is ongoing; the list of conditions CBD could potentially treat continues to grow. Currently, the list includes the conditions listed above, as well as mood disorders, diabetes, heart disease, glaucoma, asthma, stroke and many more.

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