For some people in the cannabis community, recreational use is the extent of their understanding when it comes to the applications of marijuana. But for plenty of others, cannabis is their medicine of choice. While there are still people that condemn the use of cannabis as medicine, the studies performed by various parties have helped legitimize it in the eyes of the general public. At the center of most of those studies lies the endocannabinoid system. Our understanding of human biology has helped us recognize the value and importance of cannabis. Today, we’re going to take a look at what the endocannabinoid system is and why it’s so important to our understanding of cannabis when it comes to health.
Endocannabinoid System 101: The Basics
Before we start exploring the importance of the endocannabinoid system and why it’s such an important component of the cannabis community, we need to take a look at some basic biology. You have to walk before you can run, right?
So, our first step to understanding the endocannabinoid system is breaking down the concept of homeostasis. Essentially, our bodies are hardwired for balance. We don’t want to be too cold or too hot because our bodies crave a specific optimum range.
Homeostasis is actually a scientific phenomenon that most biological systems take part in. It’s not just about regulating body temperature. For example, our bodies aim to ensure that our blood sugar levels aren’t too high or too low. Mind you homeostasis is far from a luxury. The closer your body is to homeostasis, the better you’ll feel and the more likely you are to have a healthy life.
So, where does the ECS (endocannabinoid system) fit into all this? The ECS is actually the largest receptor system in the human body, responsible for quite a few critical physiological processes, including:
- Blood Pressure
The ECS is also responsible for helping regulate your reproductive system, vascular system, brain, lungs, bones, liver, muscles, bone marrow...you get the idea, it’s pretty important.
But knowing what the ECS is and understanding how it works are two different things. As a receptor system, the ECS is actually made up of receptors found throughout the body. Where things really start to get interesting are the chemicals that stimulate them: cannabinoids.
Cannabis and Cannabinoids
So, what’s the relation between the cannabis plant and cannabinoids? Well, there’s a long, drawn-out explanation, but we’ll do our best to get straight to the point.
When someone consumes marijuana, plant-based cannabinoids known as ‘phytocannabinoids’ stimulate receptors in the body to produce a variety of different effects. Some of the more well-known examples of these effects include:
- Neutralizing Free Radicals (responsible for aging and impaired healing)
Different cannabinoids have different effects on the human body, and while there are more than 60 unique cannabinoids in marijuana, we’re going to focus on two of the most popular ones right now.
Starting off with the leader of the pack, THC is arguably the most well-known cannabinoid found in marijuana. Being considered psychoactive for its effects on mood and behavior, THC is responsible for the ‘high’ feeling you experience when consuming cannabis.
Of course, the benefits of THC go beyond the helping recreational users experience that ‘stoned’ feeling. THC has been shown to provide people with an array of therapeutic benefits. For starters, THC is extremely useful when it comes to managing pain, increasing appetite and helping relieve intraocular pressure in patients with glaucoma. Beyond that, recent studies have even shown that THC may help treat insomnia, fatigue and even depression.
This plant-based cannabinoid is particularly interesting because of its relationship with THC. Not only is CBD non-psychoactive, but it has even been known to counter some of the psychoactive effects of THC. When it comes to its medical applications, CBD is commonly associated with pain relief and its ability to combat inflammation.
But the benefits of CBD don’t stop there. Studies have found that CBD has a wide range of potential therapeutic effects, including:
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Cerebral Ischemia
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Certain Types of Cancer
Of course, one of the biggest draws of CBD from a medical perspective is that it’s non-psychoactive. This ends up making it an appealing option for treatment for patients that want help treating inflammation, anxiety or are just looking for pain relief without that ‘stoned’ feeling.
Our Bodies and Cannabinoids
As surprising as this might be to some of you new to the cannabis community, the human body naturally produces cannabinoids on its own. Interestingly enough, research on the medical applications of marijuana is actually one of the factors that led scientists to discover the ECS the way we understand it today.
Our bodies use cannabinoids to then bind receptors together. Researchers actually classified them into 2 groups: CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are found in organs, glands, connective tissue and the nervous system. CB2 receptors are found to occur in the immune system. To be clear, cannabinoids produced internally by your body are known as endocannabinoids.
The cannabinoids that bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors are there to help cells maintain homeostasis. To give you some perspective on why that matters in day to day life, getting sick is basically the result of your body being unable to achieve homeostasis. Beyond that, cannabinoids are responsible for enabling communication and coordination between different types of cells. Most notably, where bodily systems intersect (like the nervous and immune systems).
Why should you care about the Endocannabinoid System?
We could keep discussing the technical aspects of cannabinoids and the ECS, but you get the idea. What really matters is understanding why the relationship between the ECS and cannabis is so important.
For starters, maintaining the balance in your ECS can help improve your health. While it may sound dramatic, studies have shown that endocannabinoids can influence a variety of physiological systems (muscle control, inflammation, mood, etc.).
But let’s face facts: there are plenty of people that simply don’t believe cannabis has legitimate therapeutic uses. Fortunately for the cannabis community, studies on the ECS and the effects of plant-based cannabinoids on the body have helped legitimize cannabis (both socially and legally). Future studies on the ECS and cannabis will do even more to showcase the value of medicinal marijuana. The support of the scientific community as it relates to cannabis being regarded as medicine is crucial to the future of marijuana.