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Cannabis, Cannabinoid Receptors, and Endocannabinoid System

Cannabis, Cannabinoid Receptors, & Endocannabinoid System

The human body has always had the endocannabinoid system (ECS). But scientists didn’t know that until they started looking into how using cannabis sativa affects the brain. Neither did the rest of the world! First, researchers discovered delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Next, they found out how THC works in the brain, which is through a mechanism they called the endocannabinoid system. So, whether your favorite method of cannabis consumption is vaping, smoking, or oral ingestion, it gets you high via the ECS.

The Cannabis Sativa Plant: A Background

Marijuana’s medical and recreational uses date back to ancient civilizations. For example, 5000 years ago, in China, people used cannabis sativa extracts to treat cramps and pain. Today, the plant has a wide range of well-documented therapeutic applications.


Of course, the most common marijuana use today is recreation. But there are multiple medical uses too, including pain, inflammation, and epilepsy management.


What’s familiar to both cannabis sativa and our ECS? Researchers discovered they both have cannabinoids. THC, which is marijuana’s main psychoactive component, is a cannabinoid.

The Endocannabinoid System and How it Works

The ECS got its name from the word “cannabis.” It contains cannabis-like substances that our bodies produce naturally. The system has three main components, namely:

  1. Endocannabinoids: These naturally-produced chemicals interact with the ECS. They’re probably one of the most “resourceful” and widespread signaling molecules ever discovered.
  2. Receptors: Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids interact with receptors within the central nervous system (CNS) and around the body.
  3. Enzymes: These catalyze the breakdown of endocannabinoids and cannabinoids.

The ECS helps to optimize/regulate critical systems of the human body. It’s a unique signaling mechanism in the brain and throughout the body that impacts vital body functions.

Your ECS always has something to do with how you move, react, or feel. When you feel depressed, for example, your ECS can improve your mood.

Scientists believe that the primary role of the ECS in the body is to maintain homeostasis. It ensures natural harmony in the way the body responds to environmental changes.

But why would you need homeostasis? Every time your body is under an external or internal shock, homeostasis must come into play to restore order. If it doesn’t, crucial body functions or systems might have the chance of being thrown off balance. Your wellness or ability to do daily living activities like walking, dressing, or dishes are affected as a result.

The Role of Receptors in Homeostasis

Your body has an automatic self-monitoring mechanism that relies on the CNS and the endocrine system. The role of receptors here is to detect and receive information about changes in the body’s internal environment. There are many detectors in the human body—some recognize changes in body temperature, blood pressure, chemicals, etc.


Let’s say receptor A tracks your body temperature. When it receives information about any extreme temperature fluctuation, it then signals your brain for centralized coordination. Next, the CNS transmits a message to activate the necessary bodily response or behavior. Ultimately, the appropriate organ or cells (effector) receives the signal to effect a change and restore your body temperature to an optimal level.

What are Cannabinoid Receptors?

Cannabinoid receptors are natural “detectors” that interact with endocannabinoids within the ECS to regulate vital body functions. There was a time when scientists thought that these receptors only existed within the central nervous system. But now there’s evidence that they’re present throughout the body.


The CB1 and CB2 are the two primary cannabinoid receptors. The ECS uses them to regulate a broad range of vital body functions, including pleasure, pain, and memory.


The CB1 receptor is in your central nervous system, including the brain, spine, and nerves. It attaches to THC and anandamide, the latter of which is a cannabinoid that’s naturally present in the human body. But CB2 is the receptor in your immune system and the surrounding tissues or organs.


For example, when you don’t feel like eating anything, the ECS can activate CB1 receptors to boost your appetite. Likewise, the system comes to the rescue when you have problems touching on digestion, immunity, reproduction, motor control, etc.


However, you might be wondering, what has any of this got to do with marijuana use? Well, it has everything to do with the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and THC in the body and brain. Both are natural cannabinoids found in the cannabis sativa plant.


After studying the behavior of CBD and THC within the ECS, scientists began to understand the medicinal values of these cannabinoids. They also figured out how the substance gives you a “high.”

How the Endocannabinoid System Responds to Cannabis Ingestion

Scientists discovered that cannabis affected the brain or body functions partly by copying our natural endocannabinoid system. Keep in mind that THC in marijuana is a cannabinoid similar to the ones our bodies produce naturally.


So, when you smoke (or otherwise ingest marijuana), THC interacts with your ECS by binding to the receptor CB1 in your brain. It then creates a high. But the cannabinoid can also attach to receptor CB2.


The ECS/cannabinoid interactions can affect your body and mind in many other ways. For example, THC can stimulate your appetite. It can also help with pain management.


However, researchers are still trying to figure out how CBD interacts with the ECS. The cannabinoid doesn’t cause adverse psychological effects, and it’s popular for its medical uses. Researchers also acknowledge that CBD doesn’t have significant direct interactions with CB1 and CB2 receptors.


But many cannabis sativa scientists believe that CBD may work by inhibiting the breakdown of endocannabinoids. That way, it allows the cannabinoids in your body to have a more significant therapeutic impact. According to several studies, CBD can ease chronic pain. It may also treat a host of mental and physical conditions, including anxiety.

Final Thoughts

Most of the marijuana products available for sale today contain THC, CBD, or both in varied proportions. So, when you use cannabis, the cannabinoids in it interact with your endocannabinoid system to get you “high” or treat certain complications.

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