Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 6 – Manipulation Of The Endocannabinoid System)

Marijuana – An Exploration

Part 6 – Manipulation Of The Endocannabinoid System Via Cannabinoids

Introduction

I decided to kick off the newly emerging year AND decade by tackling another segment of the marijuana project. This time, endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system.

The Endocannabinoid System

One surprise that I encountered in my research was how little is currently known about the endocannabinoid system generally (let alone what is available). This network of receptors and their cannabinoids came to light in 1988. And with research into cannabinoids being heavily restricted pretty much right up to the tail end of the 2010s, the field has advanced very little in the past three decades. Like every other area of research concerning cannabis, the legitimate research data is now years (if not decades) behind the uncontrolled public experiment that is legalized marijuana.

Something a pot alarmist would say? Maybe.

However, it is far more of an indictment of countless politicians and other leaders that have stood in the way of cannabis research. Many of which now trot out the “But there is no research! This is unprecedented!” argument against legalized marijuana.

I have said more than enough about the idiocy of a previous generation of busy idiots, however. On to the good stuff.

What do we know about the Endocannabinoid System so far?

We know that there is no part of the body of which is not touched by the ECS. The main three components of the system are:

Endocannabinoids

Receptors

Enzymes

The body manufactures endocannabinoids (also known as Endogenous Cannabinoids). In total, there are three different types of cannabinoids.

-Endogenous

-plant-based

-synthetic

So far, only two types of endogenous cannabinoids are known.

Anandamide (AEA)

2 Arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)

The primary role of the endocannabinoid system is homeostasis. Though both endocannabinoids can be detected, the precise levels that constitute an average concentration of each are not currently known. Part of this is due to the fact that the body manufactures endocannabinoids as needed.

Endocannabinoids serve as agonists, binding to endocannabinoid receptors located throughout the mass of the body. These receptors keep tabs on activity outside of cells, triggering a response if activated by a cannabinoid of any kind.

The two primary endocannabinoid receptors that we know of so far are:

CB1 Receptors (in the central nervous system)

CB2 Receptors (in the peripheral nervous system, particularly within immune cells)

Since endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor, the effect all depends on where the location of the receptor. And which endocannabinoid links with it.

Enzymes in the endocannabinoid system break down endocannabinoids. The main two that we know about so far is:

Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (breaks down AEA)

Monoacylglycerol Acid Lipase (breaks down 2-AG)

The endocannabinoid system is integral to the following processes:

  • Appetite and digestion
  • Metabolism
  • Chronic Pain
  • Inflammation (and other immune system processes)
  • mood
  • learning and memory
  • motor control
  • sleep
  • cardiovascular function
  • muscle formation
  • bone remodelling and growth
  • liver function
  • skin and nerve function
  • reproductive system function

How does cannabis play into all of this?

It’s all about the receptors.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the well known main cannabinoid of the cannabis plant, has the powerful ability to bind to both CB1 and two receptors. Thus driving the various effects of THC intoxication (not all of them desirable).

Research is underway to create a version of THC which is more endocannabinoid system friendly. In people like me terms, the effects you desire without those you don’t. For the medical community, the resulting compound could end up being far safer than many alternatives (particularly in the area of pain relief. Imagine not ever needing opioids!). For me, no more paranoid walks down dark streets four blocks from my house. And for the world of recreational marijuana in general, the possibility for . . . Endless possibilities.

Marijuana and THC strains that people can consume without the risk of accidentally triggering schizophrenia?

What about CBD?

At the moment, the mechanisms through which CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system are unknown. Researchers know that CBD does not bind to either CB 1 or 2 receptors. However, the picture beyond these findings is not as clear.

One is that CBD may interact with metabolic enzymes and cause them to be less effective, leaving endocannabinoids active for more extended periods. Another is that they may bind to a receptor that has yet to be found. Even with all of the unknowns, research still shows promising results when it comes to treating pain, nausea and other characteristics of multiple conditions.

There is also a hypothesis that considers the possibility of the newly discovered endocannabinoid system as being the missing link for many illnesses that don’t otherwise have a clear origin. This general condition is known as endocannabinoid deficiency. Reduced levels of endocannabinoids may manifest in abnormalities.

A few examples of such possibilities are:

  • Undiagnosed migraines

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

As significant a role as the endocannabinoid system plays in our functioning; we still have a lot to learn.

What a fascinating time the coming decades are going to be.

Closing Notes

In the time between deciding to write this segment of the project and concluding, two potential problems came to light. One came to light last October when a research study discovered lowered sperm count in male daily cannabis users (compared to their non-using counterparts).

The other, released just yesterday (January 23ed, 2020), highlights an active link between cannabis use and increased potential for certain cancers of the head and neck. Researchers identified the mechanical pathway in which THC was activating, which resulted in unchecked growth of cancerous cells.

In hindsight, the above may NOT be endocannabinoid system related (I’m not an MD). But I’ll cover it anyway for the sake of honesty.

When considering the 2 cases above, remember how little we know about this area of human physiology. Not smoking cannabis (or otherwise ingesting cannabinoids) may be a good idea if you are trying to have children or at risk for the cancers outlined above. However, I caution everyone else from reading too much into this.

The way that scientific studies often get covered in the media is problematic as it is. When you add the fear, ignorance AND bad faith reporting which often goes into marijuana complication reporting . . . you get the picture.

These examples are used strictly to illustrate the time period in which this was written. I don’t know when future readers will find this post, so as such, I want it to be taken in the current context of research (we’ve hardly scratched the surface!).

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