The effectiveness of cannabis as a medicine has a lot to do with the body’s ability to interact with the plant. This association was discovered by Raphael Mechoulam, the “Father of Cannabis Research,” in the early 1990s. His work revealed the essential role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a group of cell receptors, enzymes and endogenous ligands (binding molecules), in unlocking the healing effects of cannabis.
The main function of the network is to keep the body stable, promoting a relaxing state of homeostasis. Encountering extremes, like a spike or dip in body temperature, blood pressure or blood sugar levels, could leave you feeling sick and uncomfortable, which is why it is critical to maintain homeostasis. Cannabis treatments target the ECS naturally, via certain cannabinoids in the herb, such as THC, CBD and CBG. These components affect the network differently, depending on their chemical profile and attributes.
“Unlike synthetic derivatives, herbal cannabis may contain over one hundred different cannabinoids, including THC, which all work synergistically to produce better medical effects and less side effects than THC alone,”
CB1 and CB2 Receptors
Primary receptors that make up the ECS can be broken down into two categories: CB1 and CB2. The first set of cell receptors (CB1) interacts with THC to promote the psychoactive effects of the cannabinoid. CB1 receptors can be found in the brain, muscles, lungs and heart – just to name a few. The latter component (CB2), located in the liver, gut and muscles, is known for working very closely with the immune system. Both receptors must be activated in order to kick start the body’s natural healing capabilities.
Cannabinoids in cannabis serve as “activators” of CB1 and CB2 receptors. Regulating certain receptors in the ECS has been shown to restore balance in human bodies. But going beyond targeting cell receptors, other components in the plant also regulates the ECS. CBD doesn’t bind with receptors and instead focuses on optimizing enzymes (FAAH and MAGL). By preventing FAAH and MAGL from breaking down anandamide and 2-AG, the availability of major endocannabinoids in the body increases.
Applications in Healing and Medicine
Introducing cannabinoids from cannabis to the body can help boost endocannabinoids and cell receptors. This connection is the reason why a significant number of new cannabis consumers reportedly don’t feel high until the second or third session. After such new experiences, the body would’ve generate an abundance of receptors – enough to help the individual feel the transcending effects of the plant.
“At the site of an injury, for example, cannabinoids can be found decreasing the release of activators and sensitizers from the injured tissue, stabilizing the nerve cell to prevent excessive firing, and calming nearby immune cells to prevent release of pro-inflammatory substances,
Interestingly, there are other factors that promote the creation of endocannabinoids in the body. Scientists have discovered that a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids promote endocannabinoid regulation, resulting in less mood swings and increased productivity. Foods that contain high levels of Omega-3s include salmon, eggs and milk.
This post was originally published on April 23, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.