What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?
A basic overview
The role of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis (balance) and is the most widespread receptor system in the brain and body and is found in all living creatures.
Although there are many receptors in the endocannabinoid system I will focus my attention to the first two receptors found. They are known as cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) and they are found in various parts of the body as shown below:
CB1 - Brain, Spinal cord, Heart, Uterus, Testies, Liver, Small intestine, Peripheral cells
CB2 - Immune system, Spleen, T-cells, B-cells, Macrophages
Each cannabinoid receptor has a cannabinoid key. The keys are either made by our body (endocannabinoids), by plants (phytocannabinoids) or are made in laboratories (synthetic)
Endocannabinoid - produced by our bodies from fat in response to injury, illness, and inflammation.
-Anandamide and 2-AG are the most studied natuarally made cannabiniods in our body.
Phytocannabinoids - produced by plants.
-THC, Cannabindiol (CBD), and more then 100 other compounds are currently being studied.
Synthetic - produced in laboratories.
-Marinol and Nabilone are the most studied and well known synthetic cannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids are made by our body from healthy fats and bind to the receptors CB1 and CB2 to help the body when it is stressed or diseased.
When the body is ill or injured receptors (CB1 and CB2) can increase in number and this is called up-regulation. This has been studied in humans with regards to inflammatory bowel disease, autism, and seizures. Up-regulation occurs to try and get the body back to homeostasis or a natural resting state.
Just as up-regulation can occur, receptors can also reduce in number and this is called down-regulation. The receptors will “go underground” in the cell and therefore a tolerance will develop.
In some medical conditions it has been found that there is a deficiency of endocannabinoids (anadamide, 2-AG). This deficiency can be due to either genetics or acquired (illness/injury/poor diet, stress). Such conditions where a deficiency is present include migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy, autism, depression/anxiety, autoimmune disorders (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis).
What is the role of phytocannabinoids?
Phytocannabinoids are biologically active compounds that are made by the cannabis plant. Biologically active means that these compounds can interact with the body and brain to give a certain effects. The most commonly discussed phytocannabinoids are THC and CBD, but there are many others being discovered.
So how do phytocannabinoids help the body? If one can imagine there is a deficiency of endocannabinoids associated with illness and/or injury by the body we can supplement the body with phytocannabinoids, just as we can supplement our bodies with vitamins and minerals should we be deficient. A common example would be iron deficiency anemia, we would need to take iron pills to improve our iron levels. So if our body was not producing enough endocannabinoids, then we can supplement with plant-made ones.
Besides CBD, over several hundred compounds have been found in the cannabis plant. CBD is the second most prominent cannabinoid in the plant and does not cause tolerance nor psychoactivity that is seen with THC in humans. Below are some of the effects that have been determined via research studies:
Cannabidiol (CBD), Anti-inflammatory, Anti-convulsant, Anti-anxiety, Anti-psychotic effects, Anti-spasmotic(stops spasms), Anti-emetic (stops vomiting), Inhibits tumor cell growth, Decrease anxiety effects of THC.
What are terpenoids? Why are they important?
Terpenoids are the essential oils that occur in all plants. In the cannabis plant over 200 terpenoids have been found, and interestingly are also made in the same part of the plant that the phytocannabinoids are formed. Terpenoids help give a plant its flavor, odor and color and are recognized as safe by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It has been postulated that terpenoids along with phytocannabinoids can help with enhancing medicinal effects such as reducing pain, inflammation, depression, seizure activity/frequency. (Russo, Taming THC: Potential cannabis syngery and phytocannabinoids-terpenoid entourage effects, British Journal of Pharmacology (2011) 163 1344-1364)
Plants can be genetically selected to increase phytocannabinoids and terpenoid amounts. Laboratory analysis is the only way to know about a products terpenoid levels.
What are flavonoids? Why are they important?
Flavonoids are compounds that help a plant with filtering ultraviolet rays, give them their color, attract pollinators, and prevent plant disease. The cannabis plant has revealed 20 compounds, and they have been found to contain potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. A well known flavonoid is quercetin which is found in green tea.
Plants can be genetically selected to increase phytocannabinoids, terpenoid, and flavonoid amounts.
Why is it important that an oil contain terpenoids and flavonoids?
Everyone has heard of the old adage “It takes a village to raise a child.” Think of the oil in the same manner, yes, science has provided isolates of various components of the cannabis plant and they do have some medicinal effect, but these medicinal effects are enhanced when working together with other components that the cannabis plant makes; i.e.terpenoids, flavonoids.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration to treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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