Visualization of the Endocannabinoid System
Understanding the Importance of the Endocannabinoid System
The first cannabinoid was discovered in 1964 by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, PhD, a professor of medicinal chemistry and natural products at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. He was the first person to synthesize the cannabinoid Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Three decades later, Dr. Mechoulam and his team made an important discovery: they identified anandamide, a naturally occurring human neurotransmitter. Anandamide was named after the Sanskrit word, “ananda”, meaning “bliss”. Anandamide, also known as N-arachidoeneylethanolamine (or AEA) is an endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter. This then led to the discovery of the Endocannabinoid System. In 1992, the newly discovered Endocannabinoid System was named after the cannabis plant that Dr. Mechoulam first synthesized back in 1964.
The Endocannabinoid System is made of receptor sites and endogenous endocannabinoids throughout the body. This widespread system is found in the brain, organs, glands, connective tissue, and immune cells. It has regulatory roles in many physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory. The main role of this system is homeostasis, to maintain balance in the human body.
There are three different types of cannabinoids: endogenous cannabinoids, phytocannabinoids (produced by plants), and synthetic cannabinoids (engineered in a lab). Regardless of type, endocannabinoids act as neuromodulators and help regulate our nervous system, digestive system, reproductive system, immune system, endocrine system, and muscular system. There are an essential part of keeping the body in balance.
CBD is the phytocannabinoid that is extracted from the Hemp plant. This is just gaining recognition and popularity in the marketplace. Thanks to the 2014 Farm Bill, we are now able to access this throughout the country.
Cannabinoid receptor sites are found throughout the body, embedded in the cell membranes. They act like lock-and-key-like chemical receptors. The cannabinoids have signals where receptors respond, receiving the cannabinoids. This is estimated to be over 600 million years old and found in ALL vertebrate species. We are just beginning to understand how important this system is.
There are two primary receptor sites (CB1 and CB2). They have been found in the nervous system, and peripheral tissue and organs (discovered in 2003). In the past ten years, the Endocannabinoid system has been shown to be involved in a number of physiological functions in both the organs and in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Researchers are finding that by modulating the endocannabinoid system, a number of diseases and pathological conditions may be alleviated.
Did you know that human breast milk and cannabis plants contain some of the same cannabinoids? Actually, breast milk is abundant in cannabinoids. These similar cannabinoids protect the infant against disease, stimulate the suckling response, and help regular appetite.
The CB1 and CB2 receptor sites have the job of regulating hormonal and neuro-hormonal activity. The endocannabinoid system is fundamentally a hormone regulation system throughout the body and it helps to keep the body in balance.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The body actually has its own ability to produce its own endocannabinoids. It does this with fatty acids. Some research is suggesting that a diet deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids can destabilize behavior and can deform or break our CB1 receptors on brain cells. If our body is functioning optimally, then a diet rich in fatty acids would serve us well in our body’s ability to produce its own endocannabinoids. Unfortunately, life in the 21st century is not as optimal.
There are many reasons our bodies don’t meet our endocannabinoid demands. Acute or chronic stress is one such reason, as are genetic and digestive issues, emotional and physical trauma, pollution, and environmental toxins – all of which change our need to supply our endocannabinoid system.
Medical Marijuana 411 provides an awesome downloadable graphic about the system here.
Here are some great resources about the Endocannabinoid System-
A six part talk by Dr. Mechoulam