Even though the endocannabinoid system was discovered as recently as the nineteen-eighties, this system plays a crucial part in the body’s vital functions. It’s sphere of influence includes sleep, metabolism, communication between cells, and brain activity, among other areas. Without an endocannabinoid system, your body would become unbalanced. As the name suggests, using cannabis influences this endocannabinoid system. That makes it interesting to explore just what these plant-based cannabinoids do inside your body.
Homeostasis: Your Entire Body In Perfect Balance
Picture your body as a giant, life-sized biology lab or a factory plant. All day long, your body is working hard to keep thousands of different processes up and running.These processes inlcude your energy distribution, your oxygen supply, your hormone levels and your blood pressure. Every single one of these is absolutely critical; and every one consists of various sub-processes in turn. As a consequence, all these processes need to be perfectly attuned to keep your body balanced and running in optimal condition. That optimal balance is called homeostasis.
In order to keep all of these processes working in sync, your body directs signals to all its individual organs. This happens by means of the nervous system, where special signal compounds (neurotransmitters) let nerve cells communicate their ‘messages’ to their neighbours. Accurate processing of these signals is essential for maintaining your optimal balance. Such accurate signal processing is regulated by the endocannabinoid system. You can think of the ECS as a traffic cop directing traffic, or a manager guiding and controlling business operations.
How The Endocannabinoid System Works
Your ECS governs your emotions, your memory, and your sense of hunger and thirst. In addition, it regulates your rhythm of sleep and wakefulness, your blood pressure, your immune system, and your perception of pain. In other words, your endocannabinoid system influences many of the processes you need to stay healthy – or even alive, in fact. To do so, the ECS has the following mechanisms at its disposal:
- Enzymes, capable of producing and destroying cannabinoids;
- Receptors on cell membranes;
- Endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.
Taken together, the system is responsible for smooth communications between the cells that make up the body. As a general rule, the body remains healthy as long as these processes are perfectly aligned. We call this dynamic state of balance homeostasis. By the constant balancing activity of the ECS, the body appears to stand still in a state of perfect equilibrium (homeo = similar to; stasis = standstill). That state of perfect balance is the way we want to keep it.
The body produces its own cannabinoids. Our body generates them to respond to its own physiological needs. Endocannabinoids determine which signals to send between cells, as well as their frequency and intensity. This capacity allows endocannabinoids to influence the duration and intensity of a multitude of body processes.
The Body’s Own Cannabinoids
If the body starts to become unbalanced, the endocannabinoid system kicks in. It determines a fitting response by producing endocannabinoids. They work as neurotransmitters. The body itself produces two different types of endocannabinoids:
- 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG)
These two endocannabinoids are able to bind to specific receptors located on the outer membranes of cells. These receptors are found all throughout the body. Endocannabinoids are like keys fitting a specific lock. Two different receptors serve as ‘locks’ for our ‘enodcannabinoid keys’:
- CB1 receptors: mainly found in the brain and nervous system. The Anandamine endocannabinoid binds to these CB1 receptors;
- CB2 receptors: Situated all throughout the body; particularly in the immune system, white blood cells, and organ tissue. The 2-AG endocannabinoid activates these receptors.
Endocannabinoids bind these to cell receptors. Once it binds, the endocannabinoids exchanges information with the cell, prompting a reaction by the cell such as producing certain proteins, for instance. The ultimate goal here is restoring the dynamic balance of homeostasis.
How Phytocannabinoids Influence The Endocannabinoid System
The cells of your body respond to endocannabinoids; These which are the cannabinoids your own body produces. Plants, however, produce their own brand of cannabinoids called phytocannabinoids. It turns out that our cell receptors respond to these phytocannabinoids just as easily as to our own endocannabinoids. Cannabis plants produce phytocannabinoids in large quantities; including the most famous ones, THC and CBD.
It turns out that our endocannabinoid system is perfectly capable of working with the plant-based cannabinoids. CBD (cannabidiol) can influence both CB1 and CB2 receptors. This ability allows CBD to either slow down cell processes, or speed them up instead. That is how CBD can work as an analgesic, reduce anxiety and stress, and help you fall asleep, for instance.
We know THC as the cannabinoid that has psychoactive properties. This is largely due to the fact that THC binds to CB1 receptors, which are mostly located in the brain and the nervous system. That explains why THC’s effects can be mental as well as physical. It’s why smoking weed gets you high. The more THC is in the cannabis you consume, the more powerful and intense the effect will be.
Unique Effects Of THC And Endocannabinoids
Of course, everyone is unique. That’s why we all react differently to cannabinoids like THC. The precise workings of the endocannabinoid system are still being investigated. Our individual differences account for our varied reactions to the cannabis we smoke. You may feel the effects of your joint straight away, while your friend may not notice anything for the first ten minutes. Your personal experience of a cannabis high may be completely different from that of the person next to you. THC can make you feel happy, euphoric, creative, or relaxed; it can even make you feel apathetic – you never know how the cells of your brain and your body respond.
Now, of course, many other factors also influence how you react to cannabis. Your mood matters, for instance: THC can intensify your feelings and your mental state. That’s how weed can make you happier when you’re already happy, or sad when you’re already feeling low. Other compounds in cannabis affect your high, too, such as the many different terpenes that make up a strain’s flavour and scent. Nonetheless, THC and the endocannabinoid system are the basic building blocks for any cannabis high you’ll ever experience.
Lots Of Health And Some Festive Cheer
At any rate, we now know that the cannabis plant has some pretty fancy substances for us to enjoy. We can use these cannabinoids to try and live healthier lives by balancing our body and brain, which is great. However, don’t forget to let cannabinoids add some festive cheer to life whenever you feel like it!