What are Cannabinoids & the Endocannabinoid System?

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant and it has been determined that there are over 100 of these. There are a few cannabinoids found in other plants, but the majority of them are only found in cannabis. The two primary cannabinoids of concern are cannabidiol (commonly known as CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (also known as THC). THC is well known and is responsible for the psychoactive effects typically seen in marijuana.

CBD is also widely known, but does not cause any psychoactive effects. CBD is best known for its large range of possible health benefits. Some other cannabinoids include THCA, THCV, CBN and CBG. Different cannabinoids affect the brain and body in different ways and work by attaching to endocannabinoid receptors all over the body.

The Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system was identified by scientists researching THC in the 1990’s. The endocannabinoid system is made up of internal cannabinoids (the body produces some of its own cannabinoids), endocannabinoid receptors, and enzymes within the human body. Scientists have discovered that the cannabinoids found in cannabis influence and mimic the internal cannabinoids when consumed. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for stabilizing several important biological functions and processes throughout the body. Some of these biological functions include sleep, appetite, reproduction, movement and emotional behavior.

There are two main endocannabinoid receptors in the body, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors mostly affect the brain and are located in the central and peripheral nervous systems. CB2 receptors mainly affect the body and are usually located in the immune system. When cannabinoids enter or are released from the body, they attach to the receptors. Each cannabinoid usually binds to a preferred receptor and this produces an array of psychological and/or physical effects, depending upon which cannabinoid and receptor interact.

The most prominent cannabinoid that the body produces is anandamide and it activates the endocannabinoid receptors. Alone, anandamide levels are relatively low and are hence broken down quickly by enzymes. However, when external cannabinoids are consumed, such as CBD or THC, the body has a different reaction entirely. External cannabinoids help ease the neuron signals that are received, interpreted, and sent back to the body. More research is needed on the endocannabinoid system to fully understand it. However, it seems to be a key factor in homeostasis of the body and according to research, external cannabinoids can enhance it.

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