What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
Think of your body as a government. It was designed with checks and balances to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Recent research suggests that the endocannabinoid system provides the body those checks and balances.
There are three major components to the endocannabinoid system. They are:
- Cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2).
- Enzymes (FAAH and MAGL).
- Endocannabinoids (Namely Anandamide and 2-AG).
Science indicates that the endocannabinoid system exists to keep us in balance. When inflammation springs up, a virus invades or free radicals destroy tissue, the balance gets disrupted. This disruption is a trigger for the endocannabinoid system to spring into action.
The first line of action is the cannabinoid receptors. Our body has thousands of these throughout the body.
CB1 receptors tend to hang out in areas essential to the central nervous system and vital organs such as the lungs and kidneys, whereas CB2 receptors influence the digestive tract and immune cells.
Together, CB receptors impact the following functions:
- Eye health.
- Reward mechanisms.
- Immune responses.
- Digestive process.
- Cell rejuvenation.
These important functions don’t even scratch the surface of the influence our CB receptors exhibit. When the receptors pick up on something that may tip the harmonious balance within the network, they send a signal out to the system.
Neural tissues on the receptor transmit an axon across a synapse that reaches the mind. Based on the brain’s interpretation, the body will draw on fat tissues to create endocannabinoids. Depending on the endocannabinoid produced, these endogenous cannabinoids interact with metabolic enzymes. This interaction causes the unsavory symptoms we experience to subside. Thus, we have balance within the system.
Types of the Body’s Natural Endocannabinoids
Research on cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system is still in its early stages. In fact, scientists are still trying to figure just how many endocannabinoids there are in the first place!
Although cannabis-based products have been used unknowingly to target the endocannabinoid system since early recorded history, the first endocannabinoid was scientifically discovered in the 1980s. To this day, it’s still one of the most important regulators of our mental health. Let’s look at the first endocannabinoids scientists have uncovered and what they might mean to our system as a whole.
This article got its name from the Sanskrit translation for “joy.” Anandamide is an essential omega-6 fatty acid that acts as a neurotransmitter. When our system secretes anandamide, we are rewarded with feelings of happiness.
Our system uses anandamide as we would use a dog treat. When we eat, our body releases anandamide. Sure, the food tastes good, but the body is also rewarding you for providing it with energy. In the same respect, if you are feeling emotionally low, the body will produce anandamide to try to counteract those feelings.
Research indicates that this critical endocannabinoid plays a role in:
- Cognitive Function/Memory.
- Depression/Mental Health.
- Pain Perception.
When anandamide enters the system, it interacts with the metabolic enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). FAAH allows our body to absorb this endocannabinoid.
This omega-6 fatty acid ester was the second endocannabinoid discovered. Research indicates that this endocannabinoid is abundant in brain tissue. Oddly enough, it’s also mostly attracted to the CB2 receptor, which is scarce in this area of the body.
For your body to absorb 2-AG, it must come into contact with the enzyme monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL). Research indicates that once activated, 2-AG exhibits potent anti-inflammatory properties, making this essential endocannabinoid a powerful neuroprotectant.
2-Arachidonyl glyceryl ether (2-AGE or Noladin Ether)
No, you do not see double. This endocannabinoid is slightly different 2-AG. Like 2-AG, 2-AGE stimulates both CB receptors. While 2-AG takes more of a liking to the CB2 receptor, 2-AGE focuses most of its efforts on CB1.
One of the primary functions of 2-AGE is to trigger the protein mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK). MAPK directs the body to fight off potential problems such as osmotic stress (gastrointestinal issues that can damage cells on the gut wall) and lower the intensity of interocular pressure.
N-Arachidonoyl dopamine (NADA)
NADA is anything but nada to our system. There are high concentrations of this endocannabinoid in our brain, namely the hippocampus and cerebellum. Suffice it to say that NADA has a tremendous influence on our cognitive abilities.
Research on NADA has found this endocannabinoid exhibits potent antioxidant properties. It also helped smooth muscle contraction and relaxed blood vessels. That means NADA has a relaxing effect on the body. This quality allows blood to flow through arteries more efficiently and the digestive system to remove toxins easier.
This the last of the most well-known endocannabinoids. While more research needs to be done on virodhamine, early studies do indicate this endocannabinoid regulates our body temperature.
Virodhamine got its name from the Sanskrit word for “opposite.” This endocannabinoid earned this moniker because it reacts the opposite way that the most common endocannabinoid, anandamide, does.
Their opposition begins at their genesis. Virodhamine comes from esters in fatty acids whereas anandamide is derived from amide compounds.
Once they enter the system, the differences continue onward. Anandamide has a penchant for the CB1 receptor whereas virodhamine is an agonist for the CB2 receptor.
The odd relationship between anandamide and virodhamine doesn’t end there. Concentrations of these two endocannabinoids are plentiful within the hippocampus. However, you’ll find an abundance of virodhamine-stimulating CB2 receptors in peripheral tissue.