Understanding the Endocannabinoid System

Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids, a molecule similar to cannabinoids, that keep our bodily functions operating appropriately. These molecules interact with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), a series of receptors found throughout the body.

February 3, 2021

Cannabis has a unique relationship with our human anatomy due to the cannabinoids it delivers when consumed. Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids, a molecule similar to cannabinoids, that keep our bodily functions operating appropriately. These molecules interact with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), a series of receptors found throughout the body. 

There are two types of major endocannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG. Both are synthesized on-demand, meaning they're only made when needed and are used immediately rather than stored. Once the endocannabinoids have filled their purpose, the FAAH enzyme and MAGL enzyme step in to break down anandamide and 2-AG respectively, ensuring our endocannabinoids are used when needed, but also that they aren't in use for too long. Endocannabinoids are unique in the way they are broken down quickly after use and not stored. Most other molecular signals in the body remain active for more extended periods of time and prepare for the future by stocking up for later use. 

All vertebrate species have an endocannabinoid system to help them adapt to environmental changes, and it's estimated this system evolved into existence over 600 million years ago. The endocannabinoid system's purpose is to contribute to homeostasis, "the ability to maintain a relatively stable internal state that persists despite changes in the world outside." It is linked to the metabolic process, mood stability, motor control, sleep, organ function, and much more. When an environmental factor sets us off balance, such as an injury or illness, our ECS becomes active to return our body back to homeostasis. 

Endocannabinoid receptors can be found throughout the body and are either CB1 receptors (usually found in the central nervous system) or CB2 receptors (found most abundantly in the peripheral nervous system). These receptors are embedded in our cell membranes, and many tissues found in the body contain both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Depending on its placement inside the body and receptor type, results from binding can be expressed in different actions. Endocannabinoids can bind to either of these receptors, and what's interesting about THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis) is it can as well. This is why THC can help alleviate some of the pain resulting from an injury. But because this cannabinoid can bind to any receptor in our body, we gain varying results, such as anxiety that couples pain relief or sedation. And due to the enzymes' difficulty breaking down THC, the effects from this cannabinoid last much longer than effects from naturally-produced endocannabinoids. 

CBD, however, doesn't work quite the same as THC, and doesn't bind to the CB1 or CB2 receptors in the same way. While experts aren't entirely sure, it's believed that CBD may block the breakdown of endocannabinoids via the FAAH enzyme, creating a more substantial effect on our body and affecting overall levels of endocannabinoids in the brain. This is referred to as the "endocannabinoid tone," and may give CBD the anti-anxiety properties it is known for. Another possibility is that CBD binds to a currently undiscovered receptor in our body that delivers these same results. 

The cannabis plant uses its cannabinoids, including THC, to encourage health and vitality during its development. Cannabinoids express antioxidant properties that protect the plant's structure, like its buds and leaves, from UV radiation. By neutralizing the UV ray-generated harmful free radicals, its antioxidants protect its own cells. We now understand that these cannabinoids can act as a natural supplement to prevent free radical harm in its consumers as well. While there are still many unknowns, science is advancing our understanding of this unique synergy between our bodies and the cannabis plant. Understanding our endocannabinoid system has helped us gain more knowledge on the subject, and the plant's growing legality opens up more doors for discovery. 

As an expert in craft-cannabis cultivation, Hive Mendocino has sustainably-grown bulk cannabis available at various times throughout the year. Due to our cooperative model, each of our member farms practices unique cultivation methods, and can therefore provide trimmed up buds based on their individual harvest dates. Together, we are able to offer our wide selection of bulk craft cannabis during every season. We also work with our clients as partners to facilitate customized plantings with transparency every step of the way. If this is of interest to you, or you’d like our full available inventory list, please fill out a wholesale account form to initiate the conversation. We'll be in touch shortly. 

Photo by: Giving Tree Farms

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