The Human Endocannabinoid System
Our bodies have an endogenous series of receptors designed to synthesize and utilize cannabinoids called the human endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS, not discovered until the 1990’s, is an exciting scientific and medical discovery. Because research is still in infancy, we are only beginning to learn what this important endogenous system does.
The ECS is a network of receptors that control some of our most vital life functions, including our immune system, memory, appetite, sleep pattern, mood and pain sensation. The receptors that we are certain make up the endocannabinoid system are CB (cannabinoid) 1 and 2, TRPV (Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid) 1 and 2, and some GPR (G coupled protein receptor). These receptors are spread throughout our entire body, but seem to be mostly concentrated in our brains, central nervous systems, bones, and other organs.
Cannabinoid ligands agonize and antagonize the ECS receptors. The human body naturally produces three endogenous cannabinoid ligands (that we’ve discovered). They are anandamide (AEA), 2-archidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA). PEA is a considered a partial endocannabinoid because it does not work with the CB receptors, but only the GPR receptors. Ligands are compounds that stimulate receptors by either agonizing them or antagonizing them. This means that they can turn receptors on or off. A healthy endocannabinoid system creates homeostasis in the human body. Inversely, if your endocannabinoid system is out of whack, you will have health problems.
Endocannabinoids and Phytocannabinoids
We’ve already learned about endocannabinoids. Now, we’ll learn about phytocannabinoids. Phyto means ‘comes from a plant.’ Phytocannabinoids are what we identify as THC, CBD, CBN, CBG, etc. What makes hemp work with our endocannabinoid system is that the cannabinoids found in hemp stimulate our receptors the same way our ‘natural’ cannabinoids do. For instance, THC acts like AEA and CBD affects 2-AG. This oversimplifies this system, but it should help you get an idea of what’s going on.
Researchers are learning that a host of common medical conditions are linked to endocannabinoid deficiency. Scientists have found that deficiencies of AEA and 2-AG are consistent with people who suffer from migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia. Until now, many of these conditions have been labeled as idiopathic by modern medicine. Idiopathic means that the cause is unknown. There is enough data backing this idea that doctors are beginning to research Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD).
As we begin to look at cannabinoids like vitamins or nutrients, it makes plenty of sense. As we age, our bodies become less efficient. Also, if we don’t have a balanced diet and are missing an important nutrient, we will get sick. For instance, a vitamin C deficiency will cause scurvy. It appears that our bodies need cannabinoids to function properly. The only 2 ways to get cannabinoids is by our body making them or us supplementing them into our diet via hemp (cannabis).
We know that cannabinoids are crucial for a healthy body. We don’t know which ones or how much of them we need. We know that they work synergistically with one another and their sum is greater than their parts. We also know that we need to do a bunch more research on them. By removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the 2018 Farm Bill has removed a HUGE obstacle that stood in the way of cannabinoid research.