Episode #2 is dedicated to describing how or why Cannabis can work as a medicine within our body. And this is because of something called the “Endocannabinoid System” or ECS for short. Below are the condensed notes from Episode 2 of the Medical Cannabis Podcast: A Beginner’s Guide.
Press the large GREEN triangle below to listen to the podcast episode right here on the webpage.
(Reminder this is intended to be basic and easy to understand…not an exhaustive reference. And it is general medical information, not medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for medical advice.)
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
When I first learned about Endocannabinoids it was at a presentation by a medical doctor. Addressing the crowd he said, “How many of you in the crowd have cannabis in your system right now?”
And one guy put up his hand at the hand and hollered “I do!”
The crowd got a chuckle out of this. I think we all collectively thought, “Man that guy’s stoned.”
And the doctor said, “No, everyone here should put up their hands. We all have Cannabis in our system.”
And then he went on to describe how it wasn’t exactly Cannabis we had in our body, but we do have types of Cannabinoids in our body, and we also have Cannabinoid receptors.
For thousands of years when humans smoked and consumed Cannabis we knew it had an effect on our body, it “worked” on our body, but we didn’t now how it worked.
(As a reminder the molecules made by the Cannabis plant that have an effect on our body are called the phytocannabinoids.)
In the late 1980’s scientists discovered Cannabinoid receptors within our body. We learned that when we get the phytocannabinoids from the plant into our body, these plant-derived cannabinoids actually interact with our Cannabinoid receptors.
Scientists named the two Cannabinoid called CB1 (Cannabinoid-receptor 1) and CB2 (Cannabinoid-receptor 2).
To summarize this point: we have receptors in us that Cannabis can interact with.
A few years later scientists then discovered the reason we have Cannabinoid receptors within our body – it isn’t just so we can consume Cannabis – the reason we have them is because we make our own Cannabinoid molecules.
Since we make these molecules within our body we use the prefix “endo” and call these molecules the Endocannabinoids.
The two discovered Endocannabinoids are named Anandamide, and 2-AG.
These endocannabinoids act on our Cannabinoid receptors to help regulate a variety of body functions including sleep, pain, memory, appetite, and more.
We call this collection of Endocannabinoids, the Cannabinoid receptors, and the enzymes that make and break down the Endocannabinoids, the Endocannabinoid System (or ECS for short). It is this ECS that helps maintain homeostasis. A medical term meaning to keep things in balance. And as mentioned above it plays a role in maintaining balance in many different body functions.
Theory of Endocannabinoid Deficiency
Basis of the deficiency theory is that we are supposed to make enough our own endocannabinoids to keep us in balance, but what if, for some reason, we aren’t making enough? Then our body systems can be out of balance, and perhaps certain diseases or conditions can result.
And if we aren’t making enough of our endocannabinoids then we can “borrow” the phytocannabinoids from Cannabis to “top-up” our deficient Endocannabinoid System to help get us back into balance.
And similar to other conditions where you are low or deficient in a substance, such as low iron levels, you take just enough of the substance to get you into the normal range. You don’t take a huge amount and “overshoot” normal and end up with symptoms of excess.
The CB1-receptor is primarily in the Central Nervous System (brain and spinal cord) but also in the lungs, gut, muscles, heart and other tissues
- It is THC interacting with the CB1 receptors in the brain that can cause its intoxicating effects (high or stone) at higher levels
CB2-receptor is primarily on immune system cells, the spleen, and plays a role in inflammation
- The CB2 receptor has many scientists intrigued in its possible therapeutic role in suppressing inflammation
What about overdose?
There are little to no CB1 receptors in the respiratory drive center of the brainstem. So taking Medical Cannabis won’t shut down our breathing.
Contrast this with opioids where there are a lot of opioid receptors in this part of the brain and that is why overdoses occur with opioids. They stimulate these opioid receptors in the respiratory drive center of the brainstem which shuts down breathing resulting in an overdose death.
A lot of doctors and patients find comfort in knowing that if they prescribe or use medical cannabis that they won’t overdose from consuming the plant.
What are Cannabinoids?
If you are unsure of what the Phytocannabinoids are (from the Cannabis plant), you should check out Episode 1. We give an introduction to the Cannabis plant and discuss what a Phytocannabinoid is. Click the image below to go that webpage and episode.
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