Bet you didn’t know that every human and animal have an internal system that cannabis effects as perfect as a key fitting into a lock. It’s called the Endocannabinoid System (or the ECS) and it plays a vital role in helping the body to maintain harmony and balance. The ECS helps us to sustain homeostasis – the protection of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment. In other words, the ECS, and all its complex actions with the immune system, nervous system and most of our body’s organs, is the bridge between body and mind. This knowledge explains why certain states of consciousness promote health or disease and why the ability to alter ones state of mind can help to maintain human health.
There are three key pieces to the ECS, the cannabinoid receptors, the endocannabinoids, and the metabolic enzymes. The cannabinoid receptors are found on the surface of the cells, they are essentially the lock in this system. There are two major receptors that have been researched: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are present mainly in the brain; they are the receptors that interact with THC to get people high. CB2 receptors on the other hand are located outside the nervous system in places such as the immune system.
Endocannabinoids are what our body produces naturally; they are the “THC of the body”. The two main molecules of endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-AG. Anandamide plays a role in regulation of appetite, pleasure and reward. Simply put, it is the “bliss molecule”. 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) also plays a role in the regulation of appetite, immune system functions and pain management. It is also believed that 2-AG plays a role in the inhibition of cancer cell increase. These two molecules are made from fat-like molecules and are synthesized on demand. Both molecules have a phytocannabinoid that is also found in the cannabis plant that will stimulate the receptors when the body does not produce Anandamide or 2-AG. CBD, CBN and THC are the phytocannabinoid keys that fit into the locks to help the body stabilize harmony and balance.
Lastly we have the metabolic enzymes that help to quickly break down endocannabinoids making sure that they get used when they are needed, but not for longer than necessary. They are very effective at breaking down our natural endocannabinoids, however they are not as powerful against phytocannabinoid molecules, which is why the half-life of the THC, CBD and CBN in marijuana is much higher than our natural THC.
With these three pieces in place, the ECS brings our body back to a balance of harmony and bliss. Understanding how the ECS relates to homeostasis at a cellular level helps us to appreciate how various cannabis-therapies can help to improve stability in our body and mind.