The Endocannabinoid System: Facts and FAQs

Sea Squirts Endocannabinoid System

Nearly everything has an endocannabinoid system

In 2005, neurochemists found endocannabinoid systems in sea squirts, aquatic creatures which date back 600 million years.
Sea squirts have primitive endocannabinoid systems.
These prehistoric creatures have primitive endocannabinoid systems.
Though this implies a significant evolutionary role, why is it that no one seems to know what it is? The ECS certainly isn’t mentioned in standard highschool curriculum, despite it being described as one of the most important physiological systems in maintaining human health. Cancer, Crohn’s, epilepsy, autism, insomnia, anxiety: nearly everyone has some sort of regulatory disorder. Additionally, a very significant percentage of sufferers of these disorders are helped to some degree by cannabis in some form, whether it is flower or CBD isolate. Since all cannabinoids interact with the ECS, it is very plausible that each of these disorders has roots in the endocannabinoid system.

What is the endocannabinoid system (ECS)? How does it work?

The endogenous cannabinoid system is a duo of neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors, which are activated by said endocannabinoids. The receptors span the whole body; the brain, immune cells, connective tissues, you name it. The endocannabinoids themselves will attach to the receptors upon stimulus. The universal purpose of cannabinoid receptors is maintaining homeostasis, that is, equilibrium and stability in spite of external changes. There are two known endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 binds to the endocannabinoid anandamide, and the well known “imitator”, THC. THC is known as a phytocannabinoid, i.e. external cannabinoids. The CB2 receptor is primarily activated by 2-arachidonoylglycerol, a.k.a. 2-AG. The phytocannabinoid mimetic (imitator) for 2-AG is the non-psychedelic cannabidiol (CBD). It is well known that both 2-AG and CBD are involved in the regulation of several bodily functions:
  • Appetite
  • Immune function
  • Pain management
Just to name a few.

A digression on cannabinoids

To clear up some possible confusion, I’d like to point out that there are three classes of cannabinoids:
  1. Endocannabinoids – These are the endogenous cannabinoids that are synthesized inside the body. Anandamide (which has been dubbed the “bliss” and “joy” molecule) and 2-AG bind directly to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, respectively, to cause effects.
  2. Phytocannabinoids – These are what most people know and love – the cannabinoids found in cannabis, including CBD and THC. THC’s psychedelic effects are known to come from its interaction with the CB1 receptors, while CBD’s healing effects are thought to be from its interactions with CB2. Furthermore, there are 100+ phytocannabinoids found in cannabis, many of them offering different benefits.
  3. Synthetic Cannabinoids – These are cannabinoids synthesized in the lab. They are not produced in nature and can be very harmful if ingested. It is best to stay away from synthetic cannabinoids in all cases.
Abbreviations for some of the cannabinoids found in cannabis.

What does the ECS regulate? (studies)

The endocannabinoid system lends a hand in pretty much everything, to the point where an all-inclusive list would be wildly diverse, and so the list below is not exhaustive:   Sleep is heavily influenced by the endocannabinoid system.

Why is the ECS so unknown?

There are many possible contributing answers to this question.
  1. Cannabinoids are associated with marijuana.
  2. The ECS was only discovered in 1992, unlike the other bodily systems which we have known about for centuries.
  3. We don’t know everything about it. The ECS is vastly complex and reaches into nearly every part of the body, making it difficulty to study.
The fact that the ECS is the only major bodily system whose discoverer is still alive (meet Lumir Hanus) makes it seem more plausible that the ECS would not be well-known. Undoubtedly, the endocannabinoid system is becoming sort of a “buzz word” in the cannabis community, and in the sciences. Considering the potential healing power of endocannabinoid system-acting chemicals such as CBD and THC, this trend should definitely be continued.

On endocannabinoid deficiency

As you may have guessed, it is possible to be deficient in endogenous cannabinoids, which can lead directly to various health disorders. Chronic migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and several other afflictions could be the direct result of endocannabinoid deficiency. The fact that cannabis appears to help with nearly all regulatory disorders further supports this theory. It should not come as a surprise that since the endocannabinoid system is in nearly every part of the body, these previously treatment-resistant conditions are the result of endocannabinoid deficiency. A number of chemicals (besides THC and CBD) have been synthesized with the intent of helping those suffering from endocannabinoid deficiency in one way or another: These are known as endocannabinoid reuptake inhibitors, or eCBRIs.

There might be a CB3 receptor

The ECS is still relatively new – it was only discovered in the 1990s, and shocked scientists around the world. The discovery of the abundance of CB1 and CB2 receptors, and their functions around the body, was startling. Chemists now think they have found a new cannabinoid receptor, appropriately dubbed CB3. This molecule is known officially as GPR55, and is in various parts of the brain and body, including:
  • The hippocampus
  • Cerebellum
  • Thalaus
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Spleen
  • Adrenal glands
Amazingly, this receptor protein was also found in cancer cells, opening the way to possible profound insights. If it can be demonstrated that GPR55 really deserves the title “CB3”, it would be a breakthrough in itself. We would be forced to rewrite our entire understanding of the endocannabinoid system, and we will certainly further our understanding of the effects of different phytocannabinoids such as CBD and THC. Research into CB3 could bring something special and astonishing – it could reduce the human’s ability to suffer.