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Are you feeling hungry? Did you wake up in the morning feeling in a foul mood? Are you suffering from painful inflammation?
All these bodily functions are regulated by the human endocannabinoid system. Since the 1960s, we have known that the human body has an endocannabinoid system that is composed of receptors, enzymes, and human cannabinoids. These are called endocannabinoids to distinguish them from phytocannabinoids—those produced by plants.
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) has a single purpose: to maintain our homeostasis—our body’s natural balance.
Whenever this balance is threatened, our endocannabinoid system either fixes the problem on its own or alerts us that we need to do something. This complex system is only now recognized as a powerful and significant component of the human body.
Many people wonder how our endocannabinoid system relates to CBD. CBD is very similar to one human cannabinoid and works in a similar fashion in the body.
Throughout the 20th century, cannabis and Hemp were vilified and their growth and consumption were forbidden. Since the legalization of CBD and industrial Hemp, however, research has increasingly focused on CBD. Nowadays, there is growing interest in understanding whether CBD interacts with our natural endocannabinoid system and in determining if it might help it work better.
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
Our endocannabinoid system is a complex system that controls and coordinates several important bodily functions such as appetite, mood, temperature perception, pain, inflammation, reproduction, motor perception, metabolism, and memory.
Whenever one of these functions is out of balance, the endocannabinoid system alerts our brain: if we are hungry, our endocannabinoid system tells us to head to the kitchen and have something to eat to alleviate our hunger (yes, you can blame your ECS for those midnight snacks or chocolate cravings).
In other cases, the endocannabinoid system sends cannabinoids to fix the problem on its own. For example, if you cut your finger, the ECS creates local inflammation to stop germs from harming your body.
The human endocannabinoid system is in an intricate balance that can easily be disrupted. Stress, bad diet, illness and diseases, pathogens, lack of sleep, genetic predisposition, and insufficient or excessive exercise can threaten its equilibrium.
The endocannabinoid system involves three components: human cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), receptors, and enzymes.
What Are Endocannabinoids?
Studies have so far established two endocannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG.
These two endocannabinoids circulate in the body. Each influences the body and brain in different ways:
- Anandamide is primarily located in the brain and regulates our mood, behavior, and perception of pleasure and reward.
- 2-AG is found in our gut and the immune system. It affects inflammation, our immune response, emotions, and perception of pain.
Whenever the body is out of synch, our endocannabinoid system activates itself and sends the relevant cannabinoid to fix the problem.
What Are the Cannabinoid Receptors?
Our endocannabinoid system functions by releasing our two endocannabinoids. These bind to receptors in a way that resembles a lock and key. Endocannabinoids are the keys to unlock specific responses. However, they only work with a particular lock. In this case, the receptors are the locks.
When released, endocannabinoids act as messengers that activate the relevant receptors and instruct the body to repair itself.
Our body has two main cannabinoid receptors, named CB1 and CB2. While these receptors are located throughout the body, their density varies. CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain and nervous system but are also located in smaller quantities in the gut, heart, liver, thyroid, ovaries, and stomach.
CB2 receptors are found in the gut and the immune system cells and to a lesser extent in the brain, stomach, heart, eyes, and spleen.
Anandamide binds primarily to the CB1 receptor, while 2-AG binds with the CB2 receptor. When our endocannabinoid system secretes anandamide, it finds the relevant CB1 receptors and binds with them.
Likewise, 2-AG binds with CB2 receptors and alerts them that something is out of balance, usually in our immune system.
Where Are Cannabinoid Receptors Located in the Brain?
The brain cannabinoid receptors are located in the central nervous system, the spinal cord, the cerebellum, the hypothalamus, the cerebral cortex, the pituitary gland, and the thalamus.
Here is what each brain area does:
- The cerebral cortex is involved with decision-making and cognition.
- The amygdala is responsible for anxiety, stress, pain, and fear.
- The hypothalamus is tasked with controlling body temperature and endocrine function.
- The cerebellum is associated with motor perception.
- The thalamus relates to motor perception and alertness.
- The pituitary gland regulates our hormones and our reproductive system.
- The hippocampus handles memory and learning.
All these functions are directly and indirectly affected by the endocannabinoid system. The cannabinoid receptors in the brain get activated by the cannabinoids, which send the message to the brain to mend a problem.
It’s no wonder, then, that cannabinoids and Hemp Oil affect a wide range of body functions!
Lesser-Known Cannabinoid Receptors
Aside from CB1 and CB2 receptors, there are another three cannabinoid receptors that are still under investigation. Studies have revealed that these receptors interact with cannabinoids, although it is still unclear how they work and how they bind together:
- The GPR18 receptor has been shown to be involved with anti-inflammatory responses in the body.
- The GPR55 receptor seems to relate to inflammation responses and pain perception.
- Finally, the GPR119 receptor is involved with food intake, weight, appetite, and insulin secretion.
Understanding how they communicate with cannabinoids and how they affect our body is crucial to better understanding conditions such as inflammation, chronic pain, and diabetes.
What Do Cannabinoid Enzymes Do?
Once the cannabinoids have done their work, it’s time for the body to discard them. Enzymes break down the endocannabinoids and dispose of them through the liver.
What Is the Connection between the Endocannabinoid System and CBD?
CBD has caught the attention of the medical and scientific world because its composition and properties are remarkably similar to 2-AG.
Following that discovery, several questions were asked: what if CBD could enhance the function of 2-AG and help our bodies fight off inflammation, pathogens, and depression? How can we make our body more responsive to 2-AG and CBD? Could CBD replace deficiencies in our endocannabinoid system? Can CBD become an alternative to 2-AG?
There are hundreds of questions still left unanswered. So far, we only know of the cannabinoids’ potential but we are still studying their interaction with the endocannabinoid system, starting with CBD.
The initial theory was that the CBD in Hemp Oil increases the overall circulation of cannabinoids in the human body and helps the body and brain repair problems and malfunctions.
Further studies, however, have suggested a different behavior: CBD seems to increase the affinity of cannabinoid receptors to endocannabinoids. Rather than replacing them, CBD seems to make our cannabinoid receptors more sensitive to the messages of endocannabinoids.
Some studies also suggest that CBD may hinder the cannabinoid enzymes from breaking down endocannabinoids too soon. By allowing endocannabinoids to linger in the body for longer, CBD gives more time to the body to take full advantage of them.
How Hemp Oil Affects the Endocannabinoid System
Our endocannabinoid system responds and reacts to CBD. Due to CBD’s affinity to the cannabinoid receptors, there is growing evidence that CBD might work where the receptors are located.
The CBD in Hemp Oil may be effective in treating anxiety, depression, and stress because many cannabinoid receptors are located in the brain and are actively engaged with mood and mental function. For the same reason, CBD may also be beneficial with sleep disorders, memory, and relaxation.
Because CB2 receptors are primarily located in the gut and the immune system, CBD may also be helpful with chronic inflammation, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
There is some research into the potential of CBD in alleviating Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis—all of which are neurological diseases that start in the brain.
A significant area where CBD has shown its potential is in epilepsy. Epilepsy is a central nervous system condition: brain activity becomes erratic and irregular and causes sufferers to have seizures, loss of consciousness, and confusion. In some cases, seizures occur several times a day and can be debilitating.
After extensive research, scientists established that CBD could decrease the severity and frequency of seizures in children suffering from two particular forms of epilepsy. Since 2018, the FDA has approved a CBD-based drug called Epidiolex, which alleviates these types of epilepsy.
Based on this example, more research might prove the potential benefits of CBD in treating several neurological conditions that today seem insurmountable.
THC: the Other Cannabinoid
Most of the talk has been about the CBD (cannabidiol) in Hemp Oil. However, cannabis and Hemp contain much more than CBD.
Hemp also contains cannabinoids like CBN, CBC, CBG, CBDA, and THC, along with terpenes and flavonoids that also add their own potential benefits to the mix.
The legal framework specifies that CBD products are legally sold across the United States as long as they contain less than 0.3% THC. THC is the psychoactive and intoxicating cannabinoid, responsible for giving users a sense of ‘high.’
Certain states, namely Oregon, California, Colorado, Illinois, Arizona, Michigan, Maine, and Nevada, have legalized the recreational and medical use of THC but this is at the state-level. THC is illegal at the federal level and consumers need to be fully aware of the implications of THC consumption. They also need to know their state regulations regarding the possession and consumption of THC.
THC and Anandamide
As mentioned above, researchers have so far isolated two human cannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG. CBD and 2-AG seem to have similar composition and effectiveness. But what about THC?
Anandamide gets its name from Sanskrit: it means ‘bliss’ and ‘joy’. It is the human cannabinoid that creates a sense of joy and bliss by affecting our brain function. Anandamide binds mainly with CB1 receptors, which are particularly dense in the brain.
Anandamide is related to mood improvement, memory, fear reduction, and fighting anxiety. For example, after a fight with your spouse, anandamide floods your system to make you feel better and help you recover from emotional stress. Similarly, after exercise, anandamide levels increase to ease the pain of exercise and return our body to an optimal level.
Research has shown that THC has a close affinity to anandamide. Its molecular structure is similar to anandamide and interacts with most of the CB1 receptors. It would appear that our body identifies THC as similar to anandamide and reacts to it in similar ways. Since most CB1 receptors are located in the brain, this is the area where THC is most active and potent.
THC Receptors in the Human Brain
THC binds mainly with the CB1 receptors in the brain and to a far lesser degree with the CB2 ones.
THC appears to affect the activity of the hippocampus and the frontal cortex, which are responsible for memory, alertness, and mental focus. THC also interacts with the cerebellum, which is associated with motor perception and balance. Furthermore, THC is involved with the amygdala, the hypothalamus, and the neocortex. These are all the brain areas where CB1 receptors are located.
Appetite, sexual behavior, hormone levels, perception of reward, fear, anxiety, depression, memory, and pain perception are all brain functions and activities that are affected by THC because of the density of CB1 receptors in these areas.
The effects of THC in the human brain can be both positive and negative. Due to the numerous brain areas where THC acts, we see various and diverse reactions. For example:
- THC causes slowed motion and slower reaction times because it interacts with the cerebellum, the frontal cortex, and the basal ganglia.
- It also possesses anti-nausea properties because it affects the brain stem.
- THC’s effect on the hypothalamus leads to increased appetite.
- And its impact on the spinal cord changes our perception of pain.
In short, THC’s effects on the brain are mixed: feelings of happiness, reward, pleasure, and increased appetite blend with intoxication, impaired balance, and diminished alertness—all of which can be dangerous.
CBD, THC and the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is an intricate structure that optimizes our body’s balance and keeps it in harmony.
CBD and THC are two phytocannabinoids found in hemp. They interact with our endocannabinoid system because of their affinity with two human cannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG.
Our endocannabinoid system regulates our mood, appetite, reproduction system, and immune system, among many other tasks. Whenever our body is out of balance, our endocannabinoid system sends its two messengers, anandamide and 2-AG, to fix the problems.
The two human cannabinoids bind with receptors that are designed to ‘read’ the message that the cannabinoids are sending and act accordingly to mend the problem.
Scientists have discovered that CBD and THC push our endocannabinoid system to use its own cannabinoids more efficiently and restore the body’s balance.
CBD has been found to be potentially helpful in alleviating inflammation, stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and decreased appetite.
THC is a hallucinogenic cannabinoid whose effects are mainly located on the brain. THC can cause feelings of happiness and relaxation, but also intoxication, anxiety, and paranoia.
A lot remains to be discovered in the world of CBD, THC, and the endocannabinoid system. Researchers are trying to establish the true potential of these cannabinoids and how they interact with each other and the ECS.
Studies are also attempting to establish ways to reduce THC’s psychoactive effects and benefit from its potential beneficial ones. Some researchers suggest that consuming CBD with THC may diminish the latter’s intoxicating effects. Perhaps CBD and THC can work together in a more comprehensive and all-encompassing way.
While we’re still at the early stages, the very fact that the cannabinoids in Hemp Oil affect our ECS is an exciting finding that may change the lives of millions of people in the future!