Understanding the Endocannabinoid System:
Our Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a complex, chemical network of cellular receptors and responses that all contribute to the core functionalities of our bodies! (Pretty rad, right?) The ECS essentially functions as a bridge between both the body and mind, acting as a key-contributor to maintaining homeostasis. Our endocannabinoid system consists of three parts: endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. (We’re going to break down each of these momentarily!)
As a collective, each part functions to maintain balance internally. For example, if your body becomes injured and must respond to pain or a spike in fever from an infection; your homeostasis is disrupted. It’s the job of the ESC to then kick-in and begin to restore the body to its normal functionality. Our ECS system affects our core body temperature, immune system responses, pain reception, our gastrointestinal system, emotional processing, and our core learning and memory functions! Our ECS is essential to our daily operations. Endocannabinoids and their prospective receptors are found all throughout the human body; they’re embedded within the tissues of our brains, in nearly all of our internal organs, and in our immune and central nervous systems, too. By gaining a firming grasp on this chemically complex system, we’re able to better understand our brains’ response to varying states of health and disease.
Three Parts of Our Endocannabinoid System:
- Endocannabinoids: (AKA: endogenous cannabinoids) are molecules that are similar to the cannabinoids found within the cannabis plant, but are entirely created by your own body! Research is still learning to understand how our ESC works and how those cannabinoids are produced, but so far we’ve identified two: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) Our bodies produce these guys on an as-needed basis, and are key components to keeping operations running consecutively!
- Endocannabinoid Receptors: These chemical receptors are floating around all throughout our bodies. Our endocannabinoids bond directly to these receptors which then triggers our ESC into action! There are two types of endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are located in our central nervous systems. CB2 receptors are predominantly located in our peripheral nervous system. Cannabinoids can bind to either receptor and in-so-doing will vary in results; some can trigger the body to respond to pain, while others signal inflammation.
- Enzymes: Once our endocannabinoids have done their prospective jobs, it’s time to break them down! This job belongs to fatty acid amide hydrolase and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which are the two enzymes responsible for breaking down the AEA and 2-AG cannabinoids!
ECS and The Entourage Effect
We just broke down what our endocannabinoid (ECS) system is and what it does for our bodies! It’s primary purpose is to maintain homeostasis internally, but is equally involved in all of our bodies’ processes. We’re now going to expand our knowledge of our ECS system and how it interacts with varying parts of the cannabis plant!
The Entourage Effect: occurs when the collective components of the cannabis plant (ie: phytocannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids) affect the cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors in our brains. Let’s take the phytocannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol, (CBD) and learn by example: when we pair the two, the most common effects primary associated with the consumption of THC are combated, even lessened to a more palatable experience by CBD! While CBD works against the hypertension and high levels of intoxication felt while using THC, it also provides its own soothing, and anodynic properties; this synergistic effect of all components building off and enhancing one another is The Entourage Effect in a nutshell! When multiple components of cannabis are integrated, their effects can be drastically altered (like in the example we just listed here!) and that can range for aromatic variances to psychoactive responses. Researchers of The Entourage Effect believe it’s possible to enhance the medicinal capabilities of both THC and CBD and even expand its current potential to unknown possibilities. The therapeutic properties of cannabis are dependent on how well they bind to the endocannabinoid receptors in our brains. Even though our ECS systems are designed to bind efficiently to our own cannabinoids, it’s also able to tether to the phytocannabinoids found in cannabis just as easily! The Entourage Effect might be the very reason why cannabis is so effective medicinally.
The Entourage Effect and Mental Health: We know our ECS plays an important role in our day-to-day functions. The Entourage Effect occurs when cannabis’ phytocannabinoids (and other components) bond with our bodies’ endocannabinoids and receptors, thereby enhancing or altering its effects entirely. In reference to mental health, studies are being performed to show if an increase of cannabinoid activity helps aid in psychiatric symptoms; this is done so with the addition of terpenes and flavonoids (which we’ll get to momentarily!) The potential cannabis has already shown as a treatment for both anxiety and depression continues to fuel clinical research forward! Depression and anxiety disorders are prevalent among our population; it’s estimated that up to 20% will experience/suffer from depression in their lifetimes.
Discovery and Rediscovery
In 1998, The Entourage Effect was discovered by two professors: Raphael Mechoulam and Shimon Ben-Shabat. Together, they found that the cannabis’ plant compounds increased the activity and responses of our bodies’ endocannabinoid receptors; these receptors act synergistically with our Endocannabinoid Systems (ECS) to facilitate our day-to-day internal operations.
Our bodies’ own endocannabinoids also respond to secondary compounds found in cannabis plant like terpenes and flavonoids! Either are known to increase its effects both therapeutically and medicinally. Terpenes, chemical compounds found in the plant that directly correlate to scent, enhance the effectiveness of cannabinoids all on their own! Terpenes contribute to flavor-profiles, as well. They’re a crucial aspect of The Entourage Effect and produce a plethora of medicinal benefits. Flavonoids are phytonutrients that can be found in all sorts of plants, fruits, and veggies. While they contribute primarily to plant pigmentation, we’ve learned that flavonoids also have a wide range of health benefits from anti-inflammatory properties to potentially lowering your risk for heart disease!
In 2011, Dr. Ethan Russo, board-certified neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher, and author whose research has hyperfocualized on the correlation of cannabis and modern pharmaceuticals, published a paper on The Entourage Effect entitled: Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effect. His research concluded that the effects of the collective – as opposed to individualized parts – was greater. He went on to research additional phytocannabinoids and their potential for producing The Entourage Effects; link to full case study here: https://bpspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x
Plant Healing Partnerships
Research is still ongoing into the complex chemical make-up that is our endocannabinoid system and its various receptors and reactory responses, but one thing’s for certain: it’s essential to have a functional ECS system as it’s imperative to your overall physical and mental health. Research has additionally shown support of cannabis and our ECS systems functionally cohabitively; the various components within the plant (phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids) activate our ESC responses which increases production of the endocannabinoids and receptors within our bodies. The more endocannabinoid receptors a person has, the more sensitive they become to its effects. Cannabis has already proven to be a botanical powerhouse when it comes to treating a plethora of ailments and diseases that are a part of the human condition. As we grow in our understanding of how cannabis can benefit us medically, so does the publics’ interest and demand for safe and effective holistic remedies. Introducing cannabinoids to our endocannabinoid systems ramps up the bodies’ natural responses and contributes to maintaining homeostasis internally.