The endocannabinoid system – what is it and how does it work?
The effects of cannabis were used as early as 4,000 years ago, when the ancient Chinese and Hindus treated a whole spectrum of diseases with this plant. It is surprising, however, that it was not until 1988 that an endocannabinoid system was discovered in the human body that responds to the cannabinoids contained in cannabis. Knowledge of this important system is extremely useful from the perspective of the potential benefits of treatment with dried or CBD oil.
How is the endocannabinoid system built?
The structure of the endocannabinoid system is still of high interest to scientists. It consists of specific cannabinoid receptors, cannabinoids produced by the body and enzymes that modify them.
We now know that the endocannabinoid system is made up of two main types of receptors:
CB1 – These occur throughout the body, but mainly on the surface of neurons in the central and peripheral nervous system. Their largest clusters have been observed in the limbic system, cerebellum, hippocampus, cerebral cortex, spinal cord, and basal ganglia. Stimulation of CB1 receptors results in the inhibition of the release of the main neurotransmitters of the nervous system: acetylcholine, noradrenaline, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and GABA.
CB2 – are located mainly on the cells of the immune system and the peripheral nervous system, where they are responsible for the modulation of the immune response and inflammatory processes.
These receptors are stimulated by cannabinoids – either supplied from outside or naturally produced in the body (endocannabinoids). The best-known endocannabinoids include anandamide and 2-arachidonylglycerol (2-AG), although palmitylethanolamide (PEA), viridamine, noladin and N-arachidonoyldopamine-NADA also play a significant role in the body.
The endocannabinoid system is also made up of enzymes that are involved in the synthesis and breakdown of endocannabinoids. The most important enzymes are: fatty acid amide hydrolase (which breaks down anandamide) and monoglycerol lipase (breaks down 2-AG).
Effects of the stimulation of endocannabinoid receptors
The receptors of the endocannabinoid system are distributed in almost all tissues of the human body, thanks to which their stimulation results in a systemic effect. Still, it is widely believed that naturally occurring cannabinoids such as Δ9-THC are only narcotic. This is not true, and proper stimulation of the endocannabinoid system has many therapeutic benefits.
Among the numerous effects of stimulating this system, the following are mentioned:
- sedative and analgesic effect;
- regulating the sleep-wake cycle;
- prevention of nausea and vomiting;
- stimulation of learning and memory processes;
- regulation of the endocrine system by influencing the secretion of, among others: prolactin, growth hormone, thyrotropin or estradiol;
- fertility regulation and participation in embryo implantation and maintenance of pregnancy;
- neuroprotective effect, through protection against free radicals, the effects of trauma or hypoxia;
- acts anti-tumor by inducing apoptosis of diseased cells, inhibiting the cell cycle and inhibiting angiogenesis and metastasis;
- cardioprotective effect, thanks to the reduction of heart rate and blood pressure;
- regulation of inflammatory processes, immunomodulatory effects,
The broad spectrum of action of cannabinoids means that they have great therapeutic potential. Currently, these compounds are sometimes used in palliative medicine. The advantages of using them in neurodegenerative, psychiatric or autoimmune diseases are more and more often discussed. Certainly, in the next few years, we can expect many breakthroughs in this branch of medic