The endocannabinoid system is a fascinating protective mechanism. It is composed of the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), the endocannabinoids that activate the receptors (two of which are anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol), and the enzymes that break them down.
Like other biological systems in the body, the endocannabinoid system regulates several physiological processes in response to a stimulus, with its primary function being that of promoting homeostasis and maintaining balance. However, unlike most systems though that send chemical signals in an anterograde direction, the endocannabinoids travel in a retrograde fashion.
Here’s an easy way to understand how endocannabinoids work. Upon a painful stimulus, our cells will release chemicals that travel from one cell to another in a forward direction until it reaches the part of the brain responsible for pain perception. The painful stimulus will also activate the endocannabinoid system, of course, resulting in cells releasing endocannabinoids. Because endocannabinoids travel in a retrograde direction, they have the ability to “tell” the cells releasing the chemical mediators of pain to “reduce” their release, decreasing painful sensation and maintaining balance.
However, endocannabinoids are only produced when there is a need for them. They are also quickly degraded by enzymes, so their effects are typically short-lived. Now, this is where cannabis enters.
Cannabis and Its Cannabinoids
Cannabis contains several active chemical compounds called cannabinoids. These compounds also can activate the endocannabinoid system when they attach to the receptors, thus the therapeutic effects of cannabis.
Two of the significant cannabinoids found in cannabis are:
THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. This cannabinoid is the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis and produces the psychoactive effects of cannabis is known for. Therapeutic effects of THC include reduction of pain, inflammation, nausea and vomiting, anxiety and depression, and seizures. THC also has antioxidant and anti-tumor effects. It also stimulates appetite, giving you the “munchies” associated with cannabis use.
CBD or cannabidiol. This cannabinoid produces almost the same therapeutic effects of THC, but what makes this cannabinoid interesting is that it does not produce any psychoactive effects. In fact, it has the potential to “tame” this THC effect, so when they are used together, they boost each other’s effects with CBD controlling THC’s psychoactive effects.
Although THC and CBD are the most studied cannabinoids, there are other cannabinoids, too, that are worth mentioning. These include:
CBN or cannabinol. Like CBD, CBN is also nonpsychoactive. Studies revealed that it has the potential to control pain and inflammation. It also acts as a sedative and appetite stimulant.
CBG or cannabigerol. A nonpsychoactive cannabinoid, CBG has antibacterial and antifungal effects. It also reduces pain and helps regulate mood.
CBDV or cannabidivarin. A somewhat lesser form of CBD, CBDV also has the potential to control seizures and reduce nausea.
THCV or tetrahydrocannabivarin. This cannabinoid is almost similar to THC in structure, but like CBD, it also has the potential to reduce THC’s psychoactive effects. Other effects of THCV include anti-diabetic and antiepileptic effects.
Cannabis and Its Terpenes and Flavonoids
In addition to cannabinoids, cannabis also contains terpenes and flavonoids that help boost the plant’s therapeutic effects. Terpenes like limonene, beta-caryophyllene, Linalool, and, myrcene have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic effects; while flavonoids like cannaflavin A and apigenin have anti-inflammatory effects.
Cannabis and Medicine
As mentioned earlier, endocannabinoids are quickly degraded by enzymes, so their effects do not last long. Now, cannabinoids also activate the endocannabinoid system’s receptors and help this vital biological system maintain balance. If there is a deficiency in endocannabinoids that worsen medical conditions, cannabinoids can help boost their levels and improve symptoms.