The endocannabinoid system | Highlights

Weed Extract: A Connoisseur’s Guide to Cannabis

As a relatively recent scientific discovery, many mainstream medical professionals are still unaware of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and its crucial role in establishing balance within our bodies. Found in all humans as well as animals, plants, and fungi (essentially anything that has a cellular structure with an enveloped nucleus), the endocannabinoid system is a whole-body signaling network that includes CB1 receptor sites and CB2, configured to respond to cannabinoids. These receptors are found in the brain, organs, connective tissues, bones, glands and immune cells and the ultimate goal of their activation is to allow the body to achieve homeostasis i.e. to maintain stability, to prevent disease. A well-balanced endocannabinoid system is incredibly vital to our health; its balance affects inflammation, pain, appetite and mood. In fact, fully understanding the endocannabinoid system could unlock the therapeutic potential to treat almost any disease. Cannabinoids are present from our earliest stages of development: they play a role in fertility and are present in breast milk, and they continue to play many roles essential to survival (regulation of stress, anxiety and appetite and preservation of neurons to slow disease progression) throughout life. By communicating and coordinating between different cell types, the ECS regulates our physiology and moods.

“How we can apply our understanding of the ECS will have a big impact on medicine and our health, as we continue to navigate an increasingly chaotic and stressful world,” said Jahan Marcu, Editor-in-Chief. and head of The American Journal of Endocannabinoid Medicine. “Since the dawn of time, the ECS has helped humans adapt and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and the hope of modern scientific understanding of the ECS continues to sharpen our ability to adapt to stress. while preserving our health.The more we understand the ECS, the more we increase our chances of thriving and surviving.

Cannabinoids function as neurotransmitters, they are involved in sending chemical messages between nerve cells, or neurons, through the brain, nervous and immune systems. Two types of cannabinoids interact with the body’s internal receptors: endocannabinoids, those produced internally, and phytocannabinoids, those found in the cannabis plant. Scientists are also creating synthetic cannabinoids in the lab.

History of cannabinoid science

While cannabis has been a help to mankind since ancient times, the first glimpse of its chemical properties came in the 1930s, with the identification and isolation of cannabinol (CBN). Another cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD) was discovered and isolated in the 1940s and scientists have come one step closer to isolating the best-known cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Enter Raphael Mechoulam, the father of cannabis research. In 1963, Mechoulam, a biochemist in Israel, discovered more about the structure of CBD. In 1964, he and his colleagues made a breakthrough by isolating and discovering the rock star of all cannabinoids, THC.

In the 1980s, a detailed picture of the pharmacology of plant cannabinoids was emerging, but exactly how they worked to produce their effects was still unknown. Scientists speculated that the chemical properties of cannabis must work with a receptor in our bodies, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s that they were able to discover this receptor, CB1, followed from another, CB2. CB1 receptors are mainly found in nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, while CB2 receptors are mainly found in immune tissues. The discovery of the CB1 receptor, which interacts with the psychoactive properties of THC, was an important breakthrough for cannabinoid science.

“Cloning the cannabinoid receptor was crucial,” writes cannabis author Martin Lee in an article for the medical marijuana-focused publication. O’Shaughnessy’s. “This opened the door for scientists to sculpt molecules that ‘fit’ to these receptors like keys in a slot. Some keys—the “agonists”—activated the receiver, others—the “antagonists”—turned it off.

“By mapping the metabolic pathways of THC, scientists stumbled upon a unique and hitherto unknown molecular signaling system that is involved in the regulation of a wide range of biological functions,” says Lee.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an internal signaling system found in all animals except insects and has a long evolutionary history, which helps explain its importance. In 1992, Mechoulam joined his colleagues in making another startling discovery, a cannabinoid generated in the human body, an endocannabinoid. Named anandamide after the Sanskrit word ananda, meaning “happiness”, this discovery was a revelation. He showed that internally generated cannabinoids function in a whole body system and helped uncover how plant cannabinoids can also tap into these networks.

“I understand that there are over a hundred plant cannabinoids,” Mechoulam tells me. “There are also a large number of endogenous anandamide-like [internal] cannabinoids in the animal’s body.

The Molecule of Happiness

Anandamide was an amazing breakthrough because it shows how our body regulates our ECS internally: whether or not we supplement it with cannabis, the ECS plays an active role in our health. When anandamide interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in our body, it creates a feeling of happiness. The body produces anandamide when we exercise and it is responsible for the “runner’s high” which is both uplifting and euphoric. The euphoria associated with exercise shows that our endocannabinoid system interacts with elements of the cannabis plant, but can also be stimulated by other activities and plants. Exercise, massage, and eating caryophyllene-laden leafy greens and omega-3-rich foods also activate the ECS. After the discovery of anandamide, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), a second endogenous cannabinoid, was discovered. The full functioning of 2-AG is still unknown, but it plays a role in regulating the circulatory system.

The entourage effect

The entourage effect is the idea that cannabinoids and terpenes work best synergistically with each other. This widely accepted theory suggests that properties found in cannabis work together to create effects and explains why isolated cannabinoids, like Marinol, a synthetic form of THC, don’t work as well as drugs that incorporate other chemicals. of the plant.

Turning this theory into a marketing tactic, many cannabis oils and tinctures advertise “full spectrum” extract offerings, meaning the product includes a range of cannabinoids and terpenes. The idea is that these products maintain the full profile of the plant and are therefore more beneficial.

Create new cannabinoids

In the cannabis plant, cannabinoids are concentrated in the tiny, microscopic mushroom-like resinous heads (trichomes) found on the flowers and leaves. In 2019, researchers at UC Berkeley announced that they had successfully produced cannabinoids on yeast, eliminating the need to work with the plant. By engineering yeast to turn fatty acids into cannabinoids, the researchers said they could create new types that didn’t exist before. The idea behind creating cannabinoids through the process of fermentation centered on allowing manufacturers to produce cannabinoids more economically, efficiently, and reliably than plant-based cultivation.

Clinical cannabinoid deficiency

The concept of critical cannabinoid deficiency was introduced in the early 2000s and assumes that a lack of cannabinoids is the trigger for diseases such as migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and clinical depression. These common conditions lack objective signs and often overlap. The idea behind clinical cannabinoid deficiency suggests that the body does not produce enough cannabinoids to maintain systems in their natural balance, and therefore cannabinoids must be supplemented to maintain homeostasis.


The discovery of the endocannabinoid system was a game-changer and spurred the creation of organizations dedicated to raising awareness of the nascent field of endocannabinology. An activist group called the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (founded in 1981) was already studying the medicinal effects of cannabis; a new organization called Patients out of Time evolved from this group and began holding regular conferences in 1995. Alongside this organization was another more exclusive group made up of the world’s most respected cannabinoid researchers , the International Cannabinoid Research Society. Incorporated in 1992, it is a consortium of approximately 650 botanists and scientists who study the ECS. The mission of the group is to promote the exchange of scientific research on cannabinoids and to serve as a source of information on the chemistry, pharmacology and therapeutic uses of cannabis. The organization holds annual symposia in locations around the world and publishes an official journal that publishes a wide range of human and animal studies.

Medical professionals are also turning to cannabis therapies. A small group of dedicated nurses founded the American Cannabis Nursing Association (ACNA) in 2006 to represent the emerging field of endocannabinoid therapies to professional nurses, providing them with the tools to understand and advocate for patient needs regarding concerns the proper functioning of the CSE. ACNA-trained nurses learn things like the proper dosage and the interaction of cannabinoids with other medications.

Courtesy of Quarto Group

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