Your endocannabinoid system is alive and well in your body even if you never consume cannabis. But what happens when you do?
The endocannabinoid system. Let’s face it – it sounds confusing and a bit scary. But understanding how and why this system functions in your body can help you make the best decisions about cannabis and you.
So, it’s time to dust off the far regions of your brain that helped you through high school biology and settle in.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a molecular system responsible for regulating and balancing many processes in the body, including immune response, communication between cells, appetite and metabolism, memory, and more.
The ECS is a network of cell receptors that respond to key molecules found in cannabis, known as cannabinoids. The system was first discovered in the early 1990s by researchers who were exploring THC – a well- known cannabinoid found in cannabis.
The ECS involves two core components: endocannabinoids and receptors.
Endocannabinoids are similar to cannabinoids, except that they are made naturally by your body. They help keep your body running smoothly. But because your body produces them on an as-needed basis, it’s difficult to establish levels of endocannabinoids in your system at any given time.
Receptors are found throughout your body. When endocannabinoids bind together. it tells your ECS that it needs to take action.
There are two main endocannabinoid receptors in your body:
– CB1 receptors found in your brain and nervous system
– CB2 receptors found in the peripheral nervous system and organs
Like a lock and key, endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are both able to bind CB1 and CB2 receptors, but the resulting effects vary depending on where the receptor is located.
Let’s say, for example, you suffer chronic pain. Endocannabinoids might target the CB1 receptors in your spinal cord to relieve pain. Or if you have an autoimmune disorder, the endocannabinoids might target your CB2 receptors
to decrease inflammation.
Michael Backes, author of Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana, explains that endocannabinoids appear to be profoundly connected with the concept of homeostasis (maintaining physiological stability), helping redress specific imbalances presented by disease or by injury.
Endocannabinoids’ role in pain signaling has led to the hypothesis that endocannabinoid levels may be responsible for the baseline of pain throughout the body, which is why cannabinoid-based medicines may be useful in treating some conditions, like fibromyalgia.
WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CANNABIS?
Cannabis contains hundreds of natural chemical compounds – many of which possess psychoactive and therapeutic properties. There are over a hundred known cannabinoids in the plant and scientists are working to understand how they impact human health.
When these compounds make their way into your bloodstream, they interact with the ECS to produce effects that can support healing, wellness and symptom relief.
Which brings us to THC and CBD – the two most well-known cannabinoids in cannabis. They both interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system though they can produce very different results.
When you think of the traditional use of cannabis – “getting high” – you’re thinking about the effects created by THC.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces that high sensation. It can be consumed by smoking, but is also available in oils, edibles, tinctures, capsules, and more.
Once THC enters your bloodstream, it starts to behave like your naturally-occurring endocannabinoids. It’s especially powerful because it can bind with both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
This allows it to have a wide range of effects on your body, some that you might like, and some you might not. It may help reduce pain, but it can also cause anxiety in some cases.
THC is intoxicating and can produce a variety of intended effects but consuming too much or choosing a product with a high potency potential can produce undesired effects, like anxiety and paranoia.
So, you want to be careful with how and when you consume THC products and understand exactly what the product packages mean.
An important term to get familiar with is “THC Potency.” This will help you understand the amount of THC in each cannabis product based on how it is labeled in the packaging.
Potency is the amount of THC contained in a cannabis product.
THC content is expressed in milligrams per gram (mg/g) or as a percentage of milligrams per gram of cannabis. For example, if a product is labelled 15% THC and 150 mg/g, it has 150 milligrams of THC per gram of cannabis.
Everyone is different and every product is different, so finding the right one for you may require some trial and error. Just make sure you’re testing the products safely and responsibly.
A word of warning: even the same products can vary between lots of the same strain.
Check labels carefully to verify the actual THC content in the product you selected.
Even if you aren’t familiar with the world of cannabis, you’ve probably heard the term CBD in relation to its health and wellness value. It’s a very trendy product at the moment.
There’s no question it’s “hot,” but what is it exactly?
CBD, short for cannabidiol is a cannabinoid found in the cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and hemp plants.
It’s a naturally occurring substance that’s used in products like oils and edibles to impart a feeling of relaxation and calm. CBD oil is made by extracting CBD from the cannabis plant, then diluting it with a carrier oil like coconut or hemp seed oil.
Research on how CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system is not nearly as developed as that of THC. But we do know that CBD does not bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors the way that THC does.
According to Junella Chin, DK, an osteopathic physician and medical expert in cannabis, CBD is the non-psychoactive portion of the plant, so what that means is you won’t have any effects like euphoria. You won’t feel sedated or altered in any way.
But let’s be careful with the word “psychoactive.” Technically speaking, anything that alters your brain is considered psychoactive. CBD is psychoactive, just not in the same manner as THC. It doesn’t produce the high associated with THC, but it is shown to help with anxiety, depression, and seizures.
This quality makes CBD an appealing option for those who are looking for relief from inflammation and other symptoms without the mind-altering effects of marijuana or certain pharmaceutical drugs.
But, some people just react differently to CBD than other people. It’s impossible to tell you each person will react, so it’s best to experiment safely.
There is a flurry of health benefit claims for CBD – everything from pain management to anxiety. It’s touted as a “wonder drug.” While CBD may have therapeutic effects, if you want to use cannabis for a medical condition it is always best to talk to your doctor.
Maybe the best news is that CBD is very unlikely to be habit forming or addictive. In fact, the World Health Organization has formally said that in humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER!
Your ECS is involved in regulating your health, including blood pressure, immunity, inflammation, stress, neurotoxicity and digestion.
It has two main receptor areas for endocannabinoids, which are produced naturally by your body as needed. The compounds in cannabis enter your bloodstream and attach to these receptors – they act like endocannabinoids – but they produce varying effects.
Why is it important to understand your ECS? Because knowledge is power, especially when making choices about what you want to put into your body. Knowing how CBD and THC interact with the ECS and the effects they produce is paramount to the decision-making process.
For example, while both THC and CBD may be helpful with pain management, research suggests that CBD may be better for inflammation and neuropathic pain, while THC may excel with spasticity and cramp-related pain. Or, because of the impact on your mental state, you may choose to use CBD in the daytime when you need to be alert and save THC for weekend and evening use.
There are many factors to take into consideration when using CBD, THC or a combination of the two. Understanding how they interact with your ECS will help you ask the right questions about cannabis and your body.