You may already be aware by now that our bodies house an endocannabinoid system, which interacts with the compounds from cannabis- CBD and THC.
However, until mid ’90s, humans didn’t even know that such a system existed inside their bodies (and thousands of other species).
In this post, we are going to have a look at different aspects of the human endocannabinoid system and the way it interacts with various phytocannabinoids, like CBD, THC, etc. For the sake of convenience, we will refer to the endocannabinoid system with the initials ‘ECS’ in the following paragraphs.
It all started in the year 1988, when the first cannabinoid receptor was found in the brain of a rat. The researchers then noticed the receptor interacted exclusively with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the cannabinoid responsible for getting you high each time.
Later, it was concluded that more such receptors were concentrated in parts of the brain responsible for mental and physiological processes viz. memory, emotion, high cognition motor coordination, etc.
Another kind of receptor was reported in rats five years later in 1993. This one though was distributed throughout the immune system and peripheral tissues of the body and interacted in the same way with THC as the first receptor.
However, in 1995, it was confirmed that the two receptors – which we now know as CB1 and CB2 – were found not only in rats but within many other species including humans.
As time progressed and technology got more advanced, scientists saw the ways our bodies interacted with these cannabinoids.
How does the ECS look like?
Well, ECS is a cellular-level mechanism so you can’t, of course, see it with the naked eye. However, if you were to shrink yourself down to molecular size, you would see that these protein-based cannabinoid receptors are positioned on the very surface of your cells.
Endocannabinoids vs Phytocannabinoids
The natural cannabinoids that are produced in our bodies are referred to as the endocannabinoids. These chemicals stimulate the receptors distributed throughout the body and help maintain our appetite, cravings, mood, pain perception muscle tone and movement overall health, etc.
Just like Endocannabinoids, Phytocannabinoids such as CBD, THC, CBN, CBG, etc. also interact with the ECS. This interaction is the very basis behind the inception of various medical marijuana programs.
How CBD interacts with our ECS?
When CBD enters our body, it binds with the CB2 receptors and ‘activates’ them, thereby altering and improving the capabilities and functionalities of the receptors. Once fine-tuned, the receptors start behaving the way they are supposed to and you witness the improvement in your health.
Some people are ‘by default’ deficient in endocannabinoids; their ECS never functions properly and they begin to suffer from a number of conditions right from their childhood. Phytocannabinoids, like CBD, thus become a necessity for many.
Notably, CBD helps restore the ‘homeostasis’, or balance, within the body.
How does THC interact with our ECS?
When you smoke marijuana, the THC from the drug enters your body and gets attached to the CB1 receptors in the brain. This ‘attachment’ interferes with the ability of natural cannabinoids to fine-tune communication between neurons. Thus, you lose your sense of time; your judgment and coordination skills go haywire and your entire system goes off balance. However, THC also affects the region of the brain that makes you happy. So, you also feel ‘high’ at the same time.
Notably, long-term use of marijuana with high levels of THC can lead to psychosis.
Is consuming too much cannabis dangerous for the ECS?
Always remember that cannabis is bi-phasic. The same thing that can take you out of anxiety, pain and nausea can very well put you back in if you overdo it.
According to GreenFlower, the ‘tone’ or the ‘temperature’ of your ECS signaling becomes too loud when you use excessive cannabis for your specific physiology.
Secondly, as you keep on consuming high doses of cannabis, your threshold for getting high keeps on increasing. This implies that your CB receptors are essentially down-regulating. They aren’t as cannabinoid-hungry anymore and so they become less pronounced. In such a scenario, the benefits of cannabis can sharply decline.
The above-mentioned point was about quantity. Now let’s move on to the frequency aspect.
Does frequent cannabis use pose any long-term threats to the ECS?
Not much research is available that could provide a convincing answer to this question. However, there’s one study that may dismiss the possibility of any kind of long-term threats to the ECS.
The study followed marijuana consumers around for twenty years and concluded that the only negative long-term effect on health was an increased risk for periodontal disease (maybe due to the dry-mouth side effect of smoking).
Can other things apart from cannabinoids take care of the ECS?
Recent research has shown that regular consumption of turmeric can improve the working of the ECS. Apart from this, regular exercise and a balanced diet (rather clichéd) are recommended for taking care of the ECS.
There is still a lot of scope for research that could help us study, in detail, the effects of not only CBD, THC but also other cannabinoids like CBC, CGC, CGN, etc. on the ECS. However, that may only be possible if cannabis is federally legalized, which doesn’t seem to be happening at least in the present year. Until then, you have your doctor, your mind and your cannabis (if you are in a legalized state) at disposal. Use them wisely!