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Cannabinoids have been making headlines for their medicinal benefits. Scientists have made progress in understanding how cannabis works in the body after discovering cannabinoid receptors in the brain and finding natural chemicals that attach to them. When these receptors are activated, they can control things like how ions move in and out of cells, how neurotransmitters are released, and how connections between nerve cells can change. These effects can be useful in treating a variety of illnesses, including some mental and neurological conditions.
Cannabis has many different chemicals that can attach to these receptors. One group of these chemicals, called endocannabinoids, are made naturally by our own bodies and can do many of the same things as the chemicals in cannabis. Scientists are studying how these endocannabinoids work in the body to learn more about how cannabis affects us.
Endocannabinoids are naturally produced by the human body and interact with cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system. Phytocannabinoids, on the other hand, are found in the cannabis plant and have similar effects on the body.
In this article, we’ll explore what endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids are, how they work, and why cannabinoids may be the medicine of the future.
What are endocannabinoids?
Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds that are produced by the human body. They are similar in structure to phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
The two primary endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These endocannabinoids interact with cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system, which can influence various bodily functions, including mood, appetite, and pain sensation.
Endocannabinoids are produced on-demand and are synthesized from fatty acid precursors. When the body needs to regulate a certain bodily function, it can produce endocannabinoids to activate cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system.
What are phytocannabinoids?
Phytocannabinoids are compounds that are found in the cannabis plant. The most well-known phytocannabinoid is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis.
There are over 100 different phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, including cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabinol (CBN). Each phytocannabinoid has its own unique properties and potential medicinal benefits.
Phytocannabinoids interact with cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system and can influence various bodily functions, including mood, appetite, and pain sensation.
How do endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids work?
Endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids work by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system.
There are two primary cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are primarily located in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are primarily located in the immune system.
When endocannabinoids or phytocannabinoids bind to these receptors, they can influence various bodily functions. For example, activation of CB1 receptors in the brain can lead to a reduction in anxiety and an increase in appetite, while activation of CB2 receptors in the immune system can lead to a reduction in inflammation.
Endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids can also influence the activity of other neurotransmitters in the nervous system. For example, activation of CB1 receptors can increase the release of dopamine, which can improve mood and reduce feelings of pain.
How does it work?
The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Endocannabinoids, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules made by your body. They’re similar to cannabinoids, but they’re produced by your body.
Experts have identified two key endocannabinoids so far:
- anandamide (AEA)
- 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)
These help keep internal functions running smoothly. Your body produces them as needed, making it difficult to know what typical levels are for each.
These receptors are found throughout your body. Endocannabinoids bind to them in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action.
There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:
- CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system
- CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells
Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The effects that result depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.
For example, endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others might bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body’s experiencing inflammation, a common sign of autoimmune disorders.
Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function.
There are two main enzymes responsible for this:
- fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA
- monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG
Why are cannabinoids going to be the medicine of the future?
Cannabinoids have gained attention for their potential medicinal benefits in recent years. Studies have shown that cannabinoids can be effective in treating a wide range of conditions, including chronic pain, anxiety, and epilepsy.
One of the primary benefits of cannabinoids is that they can provide relief without the negative side effects associated with traditional medications. For example, opioids can be effective at reducing pain, but they can also be highly addictive and can cause respiratory depression.
Cannabinoids, on the other hand, have a low risk of addiction and overdose. In fact, a recent study found that states with medical marijuana laws had significantly lower rates of opioid overdose deaths.
Another benefit of cannabinoids is that they can be used to treat a wide range of conditions. For example, CBD has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety, depression To make new medicines based on the helpful effects of cannabis, scientists need to understand how different chemicals work in the body. By studying how the structure of these chemicals affects how they work, scientists can find ways to make new medicines that work in the same helpful way as cannabis without causing unwanted side effects.