The Endocannabinoid System
Although not all members of the medical community will accept their components as a valid treatment option, cannabis plants have been used to treat various ailments for thousands of years. In order to determine how cannabis affects the body, scientists broke the plant down and isolated its components. One of the most important groups of molecules discovered in the cannabis plant was cannabinoids.
Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System
Dr. Mechoulam of Hebrew University was the first to discover a cannabinoid. In the 1960s, he also became the first chemist to synthesize the well-known cannabinoid THC. He continued studying cannabinoids into the 1990s, when he made a second notable discovery. Dr. Mechoulam found that the human body contains a specific neurotransmitter, known as anandamide, that behaves like a cannabinoid. Scientists went on to discover that these receptors are just one part of the body’s complex endocannabinoid system.
About the Endocannabinoid System
The marijuana plant is known to contain more than 60 cannabinoids. In addition to these substances occurring in nature, the human body produces its own cannabinoids, which include the anandamide discovered by Dr. Mechoulam, as well as other compounds. The body also contains receptors that recognize and respond to endogenous cannabinoids. Together, these components make up the endocannabinoid system.
Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the human body and can be identified within the brain, immune cells, connective tissue, glands and organs. The system exists to maintain homeostasis in the body by regulating a variety of physiological process, including memory, mood, appetite and the sensation of pain.
Cannabis and the Endocannabinoid System
The receptors within the endocannabinoid system exist to bind with the body’s endogenous cannabinoids. However, these receptors are capable of responding to other cannabinoids as well. In general, three types of cannabinoids that can have an effect on the human body’s endocannabinoid system: endogenous cannabinoids, synthetic cannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.
- Endogenous cannabinoids are those produced naturally within the human body.
- Synthetic cannabinoids are those synthesized in a laboratory environment.
- Phytocannabinoids are those found in plants.
Cannabis plants, such as marijuana and hemp, produce phytocannabinoids.
Since its discovery in the 1990s, the medical community has continued to research the endocannabinoid system in order to learn more about how it functions. According to the National Institutes of Health, learning to manipulate the endocannabinoid system efficiently could result in the formulation of better treatments for pain, addiction and other medical problems. Some treatments that leverage that cannabinoid system, such as treatment with CBD Cannabidiol, have already shown promise.
A Note about Nutrition
Regardless of an individual’s physical condition or medical problems, a functional endocannabinoid system is beneficial. We are capable of producing our own cannabinoids, and our bodies were not designed to need an external source. However, in order for the body to produce the appropriate amounts of endogenous cannabinoids, research has shown that it requires a healthy amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, modern diets don’t always contain the proper nutrition, and many people have endocannabinoid systems that are not functioning properly. Furthermore, when a certain ailment, such as cancer, causes significant amounts of pain or other uncomfortable symptoms, additional cannabinoids introduced into the body from an external source can effectively alleviate them.
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