We have Israeli scientist Professor Ralph Mechoulam to thank for setting us on the path to discovering how CBD helps to balance and maintain optimum health for our body. The big breakthrough came in the early 1990s when Mechoulam and his team located and identified Anandamide, an Endocannabinoid naturally produced by the body.

Known as the ‘bliss molecule’ and named after the Sanskrit word ‘ananda’ which means joy, bliss, delight, Anandamide is said to act as our body’s own natural anti-depressant. Not only did Professor Mechoulam and his team discover Anandamide, they also discovered how cannabinoids like THC and CBD, actually work.

 
By using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance’
— Professor Ralph Mechoulam
 

The Endocannabinoid System

Anandamide is just one of a natural biological system of cannabinoids found in both humans and animals. This system is called the EndoCannabinoid System (ECS) and its discovery has enabled us to learn so much more about health and disease.

What makes the ECS so important is the fact that it regulates what’s called ‘homeostasis balance’ or a state of equilibrium, in the human body helping to maintain an optimal balance of vital functions. In short, it acts like a messaging link between the brain and the body impacting everything from sleep, appetite, pain, stress regulation, and our nervous and immune systems.

When our EndoCannabinoid System is disrupted and our bodies aren’t producing enough Endocannabinoids, disease and disorders can develop because our homeostasis has been disrupted. For example, we now know that conditions such as migraines, fibromyalgia and IBS can occur when our body’s ECS is not working properly. 

So maintaining a balanced ECS appears to be critical to ensure we have an optimal level of health and wellbeing. What is so significant about the ongoing scientific research into the EndoCannaboinoid system is that it shows that not only can it recognise and respond to external cannabinoids such as CBD, it can also recognise and respond to the internal cannabinoids the body naturally produces.

The Role of Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids fall into two distinct categories and can come from both internal and external sources. According to the National Institute of Health, manipulating the Endocannabinoid system by introducing external cannabinoids like CBD could be useful in treating a variety of medical conditions.

THE TWO TYPES OF CANNABINOIDS:

Endogenous: "endo" means originating inside the body, which produces Endogenous cannabinoids (Endocannabinoids) like Anandamide which interact with cannabinoid receptors to regulate basic functions such as mood, appetite, pain and sleep.

Exogenous: these are cannabinoids which come from outside the body. Depending on which source you read the Cannabis plant is estimated to contain between 85 and 100 phyto-cannabinoids, the two most famous ones being Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  When consumed, they interact with our bodies to produce physical and psychological effects.

The Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabinoid receptors are found in organs and areas all over the body and there are two primary ones you need to be aware of:

CB1 Receptors are usually found in the central nervous system and are essential for a healthy functioning brain. Depending on which brain region they are located in they can impact your memory, mood, motor function and perception of pain. In other parts of the body, CB1 receptors play a role in hormone production, cardiovascular health and digestion.

CB2 Receptors are most often found on the cells of our immune system, in the gastrointestinal tract and the peripheral nervous system. They help moderate inflammation and our immune response to pathogens (bacterias or viruses). Cannabinoids interacting with the CB2 receptor can help treat conditions caused by an overactive immune system (eg. arthritis, asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders or digestive issues like inflammatory bowel disease)

How the Receptors interact with internal Cannabinoids

The Endocannabinoids our bodies produce attach themselves to the cannabinoid receptors to activate them. This causes changes to occur in our body’s cell function which has different effects within the body. So for example, in the case of the internally produced Endocannabinoid Anandamide, activating the cannabinoid receptors in the areas of the brain where motivation is managed influences the physiological systems that control things like pleasure and reward.

How the Receptors interact with External Cannabinoids

External cannabinoids like THC and CBD can interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the same way as our own internally produced Endocannabinoids do, and because many of the receptors are located in the central nervous system, both THC and CBD have the ability to produce changes to both our cognitive and/or physical states.

The Role of CBD and THC

CBD (cannabidiol)

Whilst CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, doesn’t directly bind to any of the cannabinoid receptors it does indirectly effect them by activating the receptors that work to control functions like the perception of pain, body temperature, and inflammation. It also inhibits the production of an enzyme called FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) which is responsible for breaking down Anandamide in the body.

By slowing down FAAH production, Anandamide levels can increase in the brain. As we discovered earlier, Anandamide is important because it has the ability to positively impact our mood so the more we have in our system, the more our levels of happiness are enhanced.

Not only does CBD help to regulate our mood levels, its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties are thought to be effective in helping to manage and reduce pain, decrease inflammation and help with nausea, anxiety and muscle spasms. Studies are also ongoing to measure its effectiveness for PTSD, schizophrenia, rheumatoid arthritis, epilepsy, cardiovascular disease and as an anti-psychotic.

THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)

THC works by binding to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, activating them in the same way that an internal Endocannabinoid would. In this way, TCH is being shown to help with a variety of medical conditions including the reduction of nausea and vomiting. Studies have also shown that THC may help patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons disease by providing pain relief for some patients.

A synthetic form of THC is already included in two prescription based medicines: Marinol which is used as a treatment for AIDS and Cesamet (Nabilone) which is used to reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Whilst the psychotic impact of THC in the form of the cannabis ‘high’ is widely known and talked about, studies are revealing more about the medicinal benefits of this more controversial cannabinoid.

The Endocannabinoid System and how it works with cannabinoids has for obvious reasons become a source of great interests for scientists, the medical profession and researchers alike, and as more research is undertaken, new ways will be developed to harness cannabinoids as a powerful aide in helping the body heal itself both physically and mentally, and the possibilities have the potential to be truly groundbreaking.

You can find out more on Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System here.