The Basics of the Endocannabinoid System and Main Cannabinoids (CBD / THC)
With the recent announcement from the Federal Government that recreational cannabis will be officially legalized on October 17, 2018, the country (and the world) is taking notice.
Meanwhile, medical cannabis remains a strong and growing industry in Canada. From chronic pain to anxiety issues, medical cannabis products can provide a myriad of benefits for individuals dealing with various ailments.
So how can cannabis improve our health and well-being? To understand how medical cannabis can provide effective relief, it’s important to understand how cannabis works and can affect our bodies.
This starts with the Endocannabinoid System.
Within the body, we have several different “systems” that are responsible for different functions. The central nervous system (or CNS) is responsible for the network of nerves that make up our body and tell our brain how to react. The respiratory system helps us breathe; the endocrine system manages our chemical communications through hormones; and so on.
One lesser-known internal system is the endocannabinoid system (ECS); this more recently-understood system was discovered when scientists started studying the physical and psychological effects of cannabis on the human body some 25 years ago. In essence, it is a regulatory system that is responsible for keeping our bodies in balance, a condition otherwise known as homeostasis.
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that, once cannabis is consumed, bind to receptor sites throughout our brain and body. Research has determined that some cannabinoids can be found naturally occurring in the body. Other cannabinoids, like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are derived from external sources (i.e. cannabis).
The way the endocannabinoid system works is much like your nervous system: there are receptors at the ends of all your nerves; depending on what they “catch,” this will tell them how and what to communicate to your brain. Within the endocannabinoid system, there are two types of receptors located throughout your body: CB1 and CB2. Depending on the type of cannabinoid, they will bind to the appropriate receptor.
And while the medical community has known about the (11) different systems in the human body for decades, the endocannabinoid system was discovered in 1992. What’s most surprising is how much this system helps regulate; it touches almost every aspect of our bodies!
Here is a list of some of the most basic functions it affects:
· Appetite, digestion, metabolism
· Cardiovascular functions
· Inflammation and immune functions
· Mood, movement, memory, learning
· Neural development, neuroprotection, pain
The Difference between CBD and THC
When talking about cannabis-related cannabinoids, the plant offers more than 113 different types. The most commonly-recognized forms are CBD and THC; THC is the one best known for producing a ‘high’ that cannabis is so well known for, whereas CBD provides non-psychoactive medical benefits (although the term being debated, with some preferring to say ‘non-intoxicating’ instead).
Because THC binds to the CB1 receptors (found in the brain), this directly alters how the brain functions, leading to the “high.”
According to Barinder Rasode, the CEO of NICHE Canada – an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides impartial and evidence-based research about cannabis production and use in Canada – “Every aspect of cannabis affects each one of us differently. CBD will be used more as a preventative product, as it does not cause intoxicating affects.”
CBD affects the body differently because it doesn’t bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors; instead it interacts indirectly. One of the effects of CBD is that it has been shown to inhibit the body’s production of the enzymes that break down our endocannabinoids, and this is part of the reason why CBD has been successfully used for medicinal purposes.
From stress levels to sleep deprivation, various conditions can affect the interaction between cannabis and the endocannabinoid system; this partially explains why the effects of cannabis can vary for an individual on any given day. With a growing realm of studies, the field of medical cannabis is providing a wealth of knowledge to illuminate new and transformative healthcare practices for the benefit of its consumers.
DOJA does not condone or endorse the illegal consumption of cannabis.
Story by Karine Bengualid
Image by Tamara Robinson