The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

 

To understand why CBD has such a variety of reported benefits, it’s necessary to understand a bit about the body’s native endocannabinoid system.

The human body sends internal signals using naturally produced chemical neurotransmitters that bind to receptors in tissues and organs.

Neurotransmitters that interact with the body’s cannabinoid receptors are called endocannabinoids.

 

These endocannabinoids bind to 2 main cannabinoid receptors: Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CB1) and Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2), which belong to a class of receptors called G-Protein Coupled Receptors (GPCR).

Cannabinoid receptors are among the most abundant GPCR receptors in the human body.1

Other receptors and ion channels are also known to be involved in mediating the effects of endocannabinoids. (See ‘The Science of CBD’)

 

Where are cannabinoid receptors found?

In short – everywhere!

CB1 receptors are primarily located in the brain and nervous system but are also found in peripheral tissues such as liver, pancreas, skeletal muscle, and adipocytes (fat cells).

CB2 receptors are less abundant and found predominantly in tissues and cells of the immune system. This includes the tonsils, thymus gland, spleen, and skin.

Receptor Type

Location

CB1 & CB2

CB1 only

 

Brain

Spinal Cord

Thyroid

Airway

Liver

Adrenal glands

Ovaries

Uterus

Prostate

Testes

Eyes

Heart

Stomach

Pancreas

Digestive tract

Bones

CB2 only

 

Tonsils

Thymus gland

Spleen

Skin keratinocytes

Endocannabinoids

The 2 main endocannabinoids are Anandamide and 2-Arachidonoyl Glycerol (2-AG).

2-AG is the most abundant endocannabinoid in the body and is thought to play an important role in regulation of appetite, immune system functions and pain management.

Anandamide (the ‘bliss molecule’) is responsible for the exercise-induced euphoria that is sometimes referred to as ‘runners high’.

Endocannabinoids are the subject of much research and seem to be involved in regulation of many basic functions including the sleep/wake cycle, memory, and pain perception.

Exogenous Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are also present in plants (e.g. Cannabis Sativa) and are termed phyto-cannabinoids. (Phyto meaning ‘from plant’ - the inspiration behind the name Phyte Club!)

Food supplements and medicines can be produced by extracting these phyto-cannabinoids, and any cannabinoids that are taken into the body are termed exo-cannabinoids. I.e. Originating outside the body.

CBD supplements that are bought over the counter/online are food supplements and not medicines. It’s essential to ensure that you buy CBD from a reputable retailer, one that provides certificates of analysis so that you know exactly what you are taking and that there are no contaminants present.

When tested, some brands have been found to be selling CBD oil that does not contain the stated amount of CBD, and sometimes even no CBD at all. Concerningly, some oils have illegal quantities of THC which (apart from being against the law) could cause you to fail a drug test.

 

So why do people get such varied benefits from CBD? 

A quick internet search will reveal that people are finding CBD beneficial in the management of stress, anxiety, pain, sports injury and recovery, menopausal symptoms as well as inflammatory bowel and skin conditions.

While no food supplement can make any medical claims, what is clear is how abundant cannabinoid receptors are in the body and that cannabinoids are involved in many normal homeostatic processes. Perhaps it comes as no great surprise then that so many people are finding CBD useful for many different reasons.

 

References & Further Reading
  1. Mackie. Cannabinoid Receptors: Where They are and What They do. Journal of Neuroendocrinology 2008. 20(Suppl. 1), 10–14.

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