What is the endocannabinoid system?

It has been known for some time that the human body has an endocannabinoid system. It is part of the human nervous system and is also called the endogenous cannabinoid system. Central components of this system are two cannabinoid receptors, the CB1 and the CB2 receptor. Cannabinoids can dock to these receptors and activate them. THC can also dock to these receptors and exert its effect.

The endocannabinoid system helps your body with the brain and influences just about all bodily functions, for example:

  • Blood circulation
  • Digestion
  • Body temperature
  • Mood

It is particularly interesting for researchers to understand the possible interactions between the body's own endocannabinoids and the cannabinoids of the hemp plant.

Where does the endocannabinoid system come from?

In the mid-1960s, THC was discovered as a psychoactive component of the hemp plant. However, cannabis was already known as a medicinal plant by the Egyptians. The hemp plant used to be used for the relief of pain and mental purification. It was only when research became increasingly concerned with the components of the hemp plant that the endocannabinoid system was discovered in 1992.

Research into the effect of the cannabinoids of the hemp plant led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, whose receptors interact with the cannabinoids. Researchers found that there were not only cannabinoids from the hemp plant, but also endogenous endocannabinoids. The first endogenous cannabinoid discovered is called anandamide. The term is derived from the Sanskrit word "ananda" for bliss.

The endocannabinoid system is not yet fully understood, and the effects, as well as other cannabinoids have yet to be discovered.

How does the endocannabinoid system work?

The endocannabinoid system is part of the human nervous system and has receptors to which endogenous and exogenous cannabinoids can dock. Normally, the endocannabinoid system is regulated by the body's own cannabinoids without external influence.

However, cannabinoids from outside can also interact with this system. Especially the more than 100 cannabinoids of the cannabis plant can influence this system. CBD is one of the most researched cannabinoids to date and is said to have a calming effect via the endocannabinoid system, for example. However, this has not yet been conclusively proven by science.

The body has two central receptors within the endocannabinoid system. They are located throughout the body and have different functions. Mainly, these receptors are said to be responsible for keeping us in balance. The technical term for our biochemical balance is also called homeostasis. In homeostasis, our body tries to keep hormones, enzymes, and endocannabinoids balanced so that we feel balanced.

Basically, endocannabinoids are used to communicate our body with the brain. After a stimulus, they are produced by our body and can then dock to the endocannabinoid receptors. Afterwards, the endocannabinoids are broken down again. The effect of the endocannabinoid system thus unfolds in order to be able to process stimuli.

What are CB1 and CB2 receptors?

Research has so far recognised two types of cannabinoid receptors, cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2). While the CB1 receptor is often found in the nerve cells, especially in the brain and the intestine, the CB2 receptor is more likely to be found in the immune system and on the cells involved in bone formation and degradation.

The receptors of the endocannabinoid system have different functions. CB1 receptors, for example, are clustered in the region of the brain responsible for our movement and information processing. They are also located in the areas of the brain that are important for our motivation as well as cognitive functions. CB2 receptors are increasingly found in the central nervous system, which is responsible for our immune system and our immune defense.

The activation of the cannabinoid receptors takes place through the endocannabinoids. These endocannabinoids are not stored in the nerve cells like most other neurotransmitters. The endocannabinoid anandamide binds mainly to the CB1 receptor, the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonylglycerol (2-AG) to the CB2 receptor. When these endocannabinoids dock with the receptors, they trigger a reaction in the body. This can affect our mood, memory, concentration and also our perception of pain.

There is an interesting connection, for example, between reading a book or jogging and a higher endocannabinoid level. This probably explains why we feel so good afterwards. Jogging and reading can increase our well-being and improve our mood.

Endocannabinoid system and cannabis

The endocannabinoids that are found in the endocannabinoid system are produced by the body itself. However, there are also plant cannabinoids that can interact with this system. These cannabinoids come from the hemp plant. The two best known cannabinoids are THC and CBD.

The plant cannabinoids have a similar structure to the body's own endocannabinoids. Therefore, they can also bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Thus, they can also activate the receptors, just like the body's own endocannabinoids.

THC can have psychoactive effects on the body. It mainly binds to the CB1 receptor, which is predominantly found in the brain. The reaction can influence memory and perception or the feeling of hunger. For this reason, THC also falls under the Narcotics Act.

What does the endocannabinoid system have to do with CBD ?

But also CBD as a cannabinoid can bind to the receptors of the endocannabinoid system. It has no psychoactive effect and is even said to cause THC to be broken down more quickly. CBD has less binding power at the cannabinoid receptors. At the same time, it ensures that other cannabinoids are less able to bind to the receptors of the endocannabinoid system.

In return, CBD can bind to other receptors in our body, such as the serotonin receptor, or inhibit the enzymes that break down our body's own endocannabinoids. This way, our endogenous endocannabinoids like anandamide stay in the body longer. Therefore, research suggests that CBD can support our endocannabinoid system and keep it in balance. However, this has not yet been conclusively proven.

Plant cannabinoids from the hemp plant can therefore communicate with our endocannabinoid system and influence our body's own endocannabinoid levels. This is precisely why research is becoming more and more interested in the cannabinoids contained in the hemp plant and their influence on the endocannabinoid system.

Endocannabinoid system explained in video