The endocannabinoid system put simply, comprises of two receptors (CB1 and CB2) and two compounds (anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol/2-AG). Its main function is to maintain homeostasis (balance) by regulating multiple bodily functions.
Pain, Mood & Memory
Just like the central nervous, digestive and endocrine systems, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is ubiquitous in all humans. The ECS is primarily responsible for maintaining homeostasis (balance) within the body and helps modulate many processes including but not limited to appetite, pain-sensation, mood and memory.
Endogenous Cannabinoids (endocannabinoids)
Endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG) are compounds naturally produced by the body that interact with cannabinoid receptors within cells (CB1 and CB2). These compounds and receptors pass messages between the body and brain and are responsible for the function of the ECS and its role in maintaining homeostasis. Interestingly, the term “endocannabinoid system” was proposed due to the structural similarities between the endocannabinoids and previously identified compounds in the cannabis plant tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) which were previously named cannabinoids.
Leading to the Symptoms
Like any endogenous system or bodily function, medical conditions can interfere with, or inhibit the performance of the ECS. This can potentially cause or exacerbate symptoms experienced by a patient due to a medical condition.
Medical cannabis plants produce cannabinoids during growth. These are called phytocannabinoids (phyto meaning of plant origin) and can be used to supplement the endocannabinoids and assist the performance of the ECS. This can help mitigate the disruption to your ECS and thus, mediate symptoms caused by a particular medical condition.
Cannabinoid treatments work efficiently due to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), present in all humans and animal species.
The ECS comprises of a series of receptors (CB1 and CB2) that respond only to cannabinoids (endo, phyto or synthetic). A range of scientific, clinical and anecdotal evidence supports the use of cannabinoid treatment, particularly using the phytocannabinoids cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These compounds (CBD and THC) are the most researched of the phytocannabinoids due to their abundance within the cannabis plant. However, ongoing research into other less abundant phytocannabinoids such as cannabinol (CBN) cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinodiol (CBDL), cannabicyclol (CBL), cannabielsoin (CBE), cannabitriol (CBT) indicates these also may contain unique medicinal properties.
A Brief History of the Endocannabinoid System
Despite being integral to the human physiology, the endocannabinoid system was not discovered until the mid-1990’s by the same Israeli researcher, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam who first identified the structure of THC approximately 30 years earlier. Since then, it has been suggested that the origin of the ECS dates back around 600 million years where sea squirts and tiny nematodes were found to posses an ECS. This demonstrates how the ECS is an essential part of life and has persisted despite environmental and evolutionary changes.
Dr. Mechoulam’s research into the endocannabinoid system identified two cannabinoid receptors, cannabinoid 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid 2 (CB2). It was found that these receptors respond to both endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG), phytocannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids such as Dronabinol. The cannabinoid receptors are primarily concentrated in different regions of the body with CB1 receptors located in the brain and reproductive organs and CB2 receptors in the immune system and the gut.
Different cannabinoids have different binding affinities for each of the cannabinoid receptors. This means that each individual cannabinoid provides different therapeutic effects and provides potential for multiple cannabinoid therapy. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has a much stronger affinity for CB1 receptors than CB2 and is therefore primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. From a therapeutic perspective, the strong binding affinity for THC to CB1 receptors (highly concentrated in the brain) allows THC to regulate conditions governed by the brain. Pain perception is an ideal example of this and THC medication has shown efficacy in chronic pain relief. Additionally, CB1 receptors are absent in the areas of the brain that regulate heart rate and respiration which contributes to the absence of any known lethal dose for THC and cannabis.
The CB2 receptors are primarily found in the immune system with the highest concentration in the spleen. Cannabinoids such as CBD bind only to the CB2 receptor (with no affinity for the CB1 receptor) and hence demonstrate no psychoactive effects. Instead, CBD and other CB2 agonists generally provide relief as anti-inflammatories and anti-spasmodic. Although exact mode-of actions (how CBD actually works in the body) are still predominantly unknown, research is continuously supporting the efficacy of CBD’s therapeutic properties. This has seen CBD emerge as a highly beneficial medicine and presents exciting and promising opportunities for research in the medical cannabis industry.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is also known to moderate the effects of THC. Although CBD has a low affinity for the CB1 receptor, it can remove THC from a CB1 receptor, reducing the potential psychoactive effects of THC. This may be fundamental to the efficacy of combined cannabinoid therapy (i.e. 1:1 CBD:THC medicines). The complex nature of cannabinoid medicines combined with the potential applications presents an exciting future for cannabinoid research.
Although THC and CBD are the two cannabinoids with the most exposure, many other cannabinoids are present in the cannabis plant (over 100 currently known). Some of these have been identified and studied including CBG, which binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors and can moderate the effects of THC. Other cannabinoids are produced in much lower concentrations in the plant or may be degradation products of other cannabinoids (THC degrades to cannabinol/CBN). These minor cannabinoids can be split into cannabinoid subsets such as cannabichromenes (CBC), cannabinols (CBN), cannabicyclols (CBL) and many others. With the diverse range of cannabinoid compounds present in different strains of cannabis, the emerging scientific research has a lot to contribute to the field of medical cannabis.
The presence of the ECS and the way phytocannabinoids interact with the cannabinoid receptors suggests strong potential for the efficacy of cannabis as a medicine. Also, the diverse range of bodily functions governed by the ECS working towards homeostasis (balance), indicates the potential therapeutic effects that may be achieved by unique cannabinoid medicines. Along with this, ongoing research continues to support the efficacy of medical cannabis and points to the potential for cannabis to become an effective medicine. Cannasouth Plant Research aims to play a major role in the research and innovation of medical cannabis to continue to support our endocannabinoid systems and provide relief from a wide range of medical conditions.