Your Endocannabinoid System 101
Since becoming a caregiver, my understanding of how cannabis works in the body has changed dramatically. I used to be like everyone else, I thought about and made decisions about cannabis and the presumed effects on my body based largely on the binary model for strains—Indica and Sativa. However, I’ve been educating myself on the medical science of cannabis in general, and how and why it works within our bodies through our Endocannabinoid system in particular.
Endocannabinoid System Defined. The Endocannabinoid System describes a biological system in every human being that are comprised of endogenous, lipid (fat) based, retrograde neurotransmitters that bind with cannabinoid receptors located through the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Basically, luck you, you have these receptors throughout your body that naturally help you process the individual components of the cannabis plant to achieve medical benefits from it. Obviously, you already knew cannabis was a medicine, that’s why you consume it! The physiology sounds really complex, but what it means is that your body, from your head to your toes, can use and process naturally the chemicals found in the cannabis plant for all kinds of ailments, but especially pain, inflammation and nerve issues.
Scientists have discovered two main receptors in the human body that help us use the cannabis plant as a medicine effectively, they are CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are largely found in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are found to be largely involved in pain regulation, immune system function and appetite control, so they are found throughout those body systems. Some other types of receptors are described in the image above.
Some ways Cannabis impacts your body through your ECS. Cannabis can affect long-term memory and recall. We know this to be true, and it’s a classic stereotype for cannabis users. However, this may be a very helpful thing for people who suffer from PTSD and have horrific memories of their trauma that continue to impact their current lives. Cannabis use is prescribed for PTSD survivors in very restrictive medical states, because it is so helpful.
We know too that THC has a direct impact on food seeking behavior. Again, this is a classic cannabis user stereotype, but it is a fact that THC increases your appetite. For people who have Anorexia for whatever reason (sometimes it is brought about by cancer treatment), THC is very effective for motivating people to eat.
Studies have also shown that combined cannabinoids of THC and CBD are helpful in reducing a person’s stress response. Sometimes, because of people’s trauma and/or mood instability, responses to stimuli are too intense for the given situation. Therefore, Cannabis can help make sure you aren’t overreacting to stimuli in the environment. So, it is the case that cannabis can help regulate your moods and responses to stressors. However, too much THC without the regulating effects of the CBD in the plant can lead to anxiety for some people. Endocannabinoids are one of the most widespread and versatile signaling molecules known to man, according to the UCLA Cannabis Research Institute. Endocannabinoids aid in our body’s homeostasis.
Cannabis can positively impact your immune system as well. Cannabis use can release hormones that help you produce white blood cells and bone marrow cells! It appears too that chemicals in cannabis can help regulate a woman’s fertility and support their body’s ability to recognize and miscarry embryo’s with genetic defects, according to some studies. The image below provides a good visual representation of our Endocannabinoid System.
Why full-spectrum products are important. It is believed that in order for the medical consumer to achieve a therapeutic medical benefit from the plant. That is, in order to achieve the all-around medical benefits from the plant, a full spectrum oil is more likely to be hitting these important receptors throughout the body based on what type of plant medicine you are consuming.
UCLA Health Cannabis Research Initiative (2019). Retrieved from: https://www.uclahealth.org/cannabis/human-endocannabinoid-system.