How cannabinoids affect the Endocannabinoid System
The effects of cannabinoids, also known as phytocannabinoids, are exerted after their interaction with specific CB receptors. They are placed in two categories: exogenous and endogenous cannabinoids. Endogenous cannabinoids (“endo” meaning “within”), regulate basic functions through their interaction with CB receptors and are naturally produced by our own body. The others, called exogenous cannabinoids, are commonly found in cannabis, such as THC and CBD, and come from external sources outside of the body.
Endocannabinoids found in our endocannabinoid system help regulate a wide variety of mechanisms, including facilitation of intercellular communication between different cell types. This mechanism has one purpose: to balance the effects of imbalances in our body, either due to injury, sickness, toxins, diet or lifestyle choices in general.
When a person experiences bone damage or brain trauma, for example, endocannabinoids come to the rescue by minimizing pain and tissue damage caused by these injuries. This action is done by reducing the release of sensitizers from the injured tissue, which then stabilizes nerve cells to protect the body from excessive firing. As a result, nearby immune cells are prevented from releasing proinflammatory chemicals. There are two major endogenous cannabinoids:
2-AG (2-arachidonoyl glycerol) – Found at higher concentrations in the brain.
Anandamide – Found mainly around areas of the body away from the brain, its name comes from the Sanskrit word, “Ananda”, meaning bliss.
These two endocannabinoids are synthesized by our body on demand, which means that they get swiftly broken down by enzymes after the body signals their release.
The endocannabinoid system exists to respond to endocannabinoids produced by the body. However, research has found that this system also recognizes and responds to external cannabinoids, including those found in cannabis. In contrast to endocannabinoids, exogenous cannabinoids are taken in from the consumption of cannabis and can stay in the body for long periods of time. Their therapeutic effect causes our endocannabinoid system to activate to a greater extent, which allows it to work harder and more efficiently, and aromatic chemical compounds called terpenes – responsible for the most appealing qualities of cannabis such as smell – could be part of the reason why. In fact, evidence suggests that whole plant cannabis (that includes terpenes) may be superior to isolated parts of the cannabis plant.