What Is The Endocannabinoid System And How Does It Work?
Understanding Your Body’s Response To Marijuana
We all know that marijuana has a powerful effect on the human body. We’re aware of the most obvious effects of marijuana use- it’s been used both medically and recreationally for centuries. Internet and media sources have told us for years that cannabis is a potential treatment for everything from vertigo to HIV, but what most people don’t understand is exactly how marijuana works.
The scientific community has been flooded with research since the discovery of the Endogenous Cannabinoid System in the late 1980’s. This system, also known as the Endocannabinoid system, was named after the plant which led to it’s discovery. Still, many marijuana patients and doctors remain ignorant about the function and effects of this enormous network of nerve receptors in the body. A simple internet search of the words ‘Endocannabinoid System’ results in thousands of scholarly articles and research summaries- most of which are complete gibberish to the general public. The goal of this article is to summarize and decode the wealth of information available so that users can gain a better understanding of the effects of marijuana on the body.
How Your Nervous System Works
Your nervous system is responsible for controlling every single response and activity in the body. It does this by creating and distributing chemicals called neurotransmitters from cell to cell at remarkably fast speeds. Every time you decide to move or speak, your brain sends hundreds of chemical messages that transform your thoughts into action. In addition to these obvious signs, the majority of your nervous system is devoted to unconscious bodily processes- like heartbeat, digestion, healing and cell growth. Different neurotransmitters result in different bodily responses. In order for your body to receive these chemical messages, nerve cells must have receptors that fit the different neurotransmitters- before a key can work, your body needs a lock the key will fit into.
What many people don’t know is that your body has an extensive network of receptors designed to fit perfectly with the compounds found in marijuana, called cannabinoids. In fact, almost all animals on the planet have an Endocannabinoid system. There are literally hundreds of cannabinoids in marijuana, each with a slightly different chemical composition. The most well known are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). The more exposure you have to these chemicals, the more receptors you create, making your body more and more responsive to the effects of marijuana over time.
This is all fantastic, but what exactly do these cannabinoids trigger the body to do? The question has led researchers on a hunt spanning more than two decades, and we still don’t know the whole answer.
How Marijuana Works
Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, marijuana cannot be perfectly calculated and measured. The cannabis plant contains hundreds of chemicals and compounds which interact with each other on a microscopic level. Inside the body, these effects become even more subtle. Once you consider that the chemical makeup of marijuana varies not only between strains, but also between plants, you must also keep in mind that each body is different and will therefore react differently to this complex, incredibly delicate mix of substances. If this seems discouraging, it shouldn’t. Researchers have found that the natural balance of phytochemicals found in marijuana may be more effective at treating disease than any single, isolated substance.
A growing amount of research suggests that marijuana could be the key to reprogramming the body to fight disease. This works because endocannabinoids bind with two main types of nerve receptors: CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are located throughout the body, but mostly in the brain and spinal cord. When you feel ‘high’ after using marijuana, that’s because the CB1 receptors in your brain have been stimulated. They play a role in memory, mood, sleep, pain sensation and much more. CB2 receptors are almost nonexistent in the brain, but can be found primarily in white blood cells, tonsils and the spleen. Research has also found evidence that they may exist in bone tissue. CB2 receptors play an enormous role in regulating inflammation, which causes a variety of disorders including asthma, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s.
The most shocking discoveries about cannabinoids have only been made in the past few years. Scientists around the world, including Wai Liu in London and researchers at The California Pacific Medical Center, have uncovered evidence that marijuana may actually destroy cancer cells by stimulating a process known as apoptosis (voluntary cell death). Another group of researchers believe that marijuana may reverse the effects of bone loss and stimulate re-growth. I recently wrote an article about how marijuana can inhibit cancer growth, check it out.
While all these discoveries are changing the world’s perspective on marijuana, an ancient herb doesn’t deserve all the credit. The real applause should go to the remarkable and complex human body. Millennia of evolution has created a physical form that’s able to heal itself- if it’s given the right environment. As humans, our bodies are capable of transforming common plants and natural medicines into miraculous healing processes. We should all take a moment to thank our bodies for being so much smarter than we are. It’s taken scientists years to understand how a simple plant could have so much potential for healing- our bodies figured it out centuries ago.