So… What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system is the regulator of the entire body. It is enmeshed with nearly every other system of the body and it modulates nearly all of the processes that occur in the body. Somehow, scientists discovered this fact as late as the 1990s!
In the physical and mental health fields there is a concept known as comorbidity. Comorbidity occurs when multiple chronic conditions develop in a person, often from the same root cause. For example, in terms of physical health, obesity creates both high cholesterol and high blood pressure. In terms of mental health, if you have anxiety then you are also likely to have depression.
Comorbidity is the norm in modern medicine; it illustrates that when one system stops running efficiently, it will cause other systems in the body to become dysregulated as well.
THERE IS A RAINBOW:
If you heal one system of the body, you are going to see healing in other systems as well.
The Endocannabinoid System:
The endocannabinoid system creates balance and homeostasis in the body by activating immune cells, regulating immune responses, and providing anti-inflammatory agents throughout the entire body. Endocannabinoid signaling across the neural synapses is critical for human health.
The Receptors: CB1 receptors are the primary receptors of the nervous system and can be found throughout the body (in the adrenal glands, adipose tissue, heart, liver, lung, prostate, uterus, ovaries, testes, bone marrow, thymus, and tonsils). CB2 receptors are the peripheral cannabinoid receptors and are not expressed in neurons the way that CB1 receptors are. CB2’s primary expressions are in the immune system, but they are also found in bones, the GI system, and microglia (immune cells) of the central nervous system. Endocannabinoids are endogenous (produced by the body) activators of the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The two best-known endocannabinoids that your body produces are Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). The name “anandamide” comes from the sanskrit word for “bliss” and it plays roles in pain, depression, appetite, memory, and fertility. FAAH and MAGL are the 2 key enzymes of the endocannabinoid system. An enzyme is a molecule that is responsible for the chemical reactions in the body — FAAH breaks down anandamide and MAGL breaks down 2-AG. Phytocannabinoids are the cannabinoids produced by the cannabis sativa plant (hemp and cannabis). They help the body activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors by increasing levels of anandamide and 2-AG.
Some of the processes the endocannabinoid system is involved in: Research has confirmed that the endocannabinoid system is a system that maintains the body’s homeostasis, which also means that it modulates pathways in many systems of the body. Within the GI tract the endocannabinoid system modulates motility, secretion, sensation, emesis, satiety, inflammation, and more. The central nervous system is regulated by endocannabinoids. The HPA axis is the main hormone regulatory system of your body and it is partially controlled by the endocannabinoid system. The HPA axis is a fundamental part of your body’s stress response. Anandamide and 2-AG are changed by stress—the exposure of chronic stress leads to a downregulation of CB1 receptors, a decline in AEA, and an increase in the HPA axis and anxiety-linked behavior, which lead to changes in pain perception, memory, and synaptic plasticity. Anxiety is associated with a decreased amount of anandamide and increased activation of the HPA pathway. Development is majorly impacted by the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids in the uterus are at their highest concentration at the time of ovulation; they are important for the implantation of the fertilized egg in the wall of the uterus. The fetus has varying levels of endocannabinoids throughout pregnancy and a plethora of endocannabinoids are also found in breast milk. Without these endocannabinoids, babies may develop a disease termed “non-organic ability to thrive.” Endocannabinoids are a part of neurodevelopment and neurogenesis throughout the lifespan.
The modern day endocannabinoid deficiency: Our bodies have not evolved to live in the modern world. Today the body is so overworked and overloaded; there are many reasons that it lacks the ability to produce all the endocannabinoids needed to keep systems in a state of homeostasis. If the endocannabinoid system loses its effectiveness, homeostasis cannot be truly achieved, inflammation goes unchecked, and disease may form.
How does CBD fit in? FAAH and MAGL are not able to break down the phytocannabinoids from CBD. This is why CBD is able to help the body keep anandamide levels higher. With more anandamide, the body can activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors, allowing the endocannabinoid system to do its job.
My study of the endocannabinoid system has completely changed the way I look at my body. Now I am able to look at the whole picture: how it is functioning as a whole and how the different components are working in tandem. I do not just have a stomach problem, I have a stomach problem that is making my head hurt due to the gut-brain axis and that is giving me anxiety due to a) pain from neuroinflammation and b) the fact that I do not feel comfortable in my jeans. Answers are never just black and white. No one can tell you exactly what using plant therapy in the form of hemp is going to do for you specifically — it is going to take a whole-body-balancing approach — but who doesn’t like a pleasant surprise?
An Article By Evie Louise
Evie Louise is a recent psychology graduate from New York University. She is a certified in International Cannabinoid Clinical Therapy. Evie sees all forms of the cannabis sativa plant as the future of psychiatry, and hopes to use it in her therapy practice as a full spectrum approach to mental health and wellness.