The Endocannabinoid System

Take a deeper look at how CBD interacts with the human body.

Aspi is honored to educate our community on this crucial lock and key mechanism that has revolutionized our understanding of how our body heals and broadened our knowledge on brain chemistry.


What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system is a lipid-based biochemical communicative network that’s found in humans as well as any organism with a vertebra. This intricate system of retrograde neurotransmitters plays an important role among physiological functions.

Cannabis Research that Led to the Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System

Israeli scientist, Raphael Mechoulam, was researching the psychoactivity caused by THC and how our bodies react to the compound. This research led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system. Mechoulam stated, “By using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance. We wouldn’t have been able to get there if we had not looked at the plant.”

In 1988, the first cannabinoid receptor was identified in the brain of a rat by scientists William Devane and Allyn Howlett. This cannabinoid receptor was discovered by the pharmacological response it had to marijuana resin. Additional research found that cannabinoid receptors were much more prevalent than first imagined– there are actually more cannabinoid receptors in the brain than any other neurotransmitter.


Cannabinoid Receptor Research

In 1990, scientist Lisa Matsuda announced her findings regarding her work with the National Institute of Mental Health. She discovered the exact DNA sequence that encoded a THC-sensitive receptor within a rat’s brain. We have the same cannabinoid receptors located in our brains. Cannabinoid receptors function as sensing devices that are constantly picking up biochemical cues that flow throughout the cell’s surroundings. This first identified cannabinoid receptor found in the brain was named CB1. Researchers were able to locate CB1 receptors throughout the brain, finding higher concentrations throughout the hippocampus (memory), cerebellum (coordination), cerebral cortex (higher cognition), amygdala (emotions), basal ganglia (movement), hypothalamus (appetite), and more.

Matsuda was able to successfully clone this cannabinoid receptor which led to the revelation of molecules that worked as antagonists and agonists. This scientific discovery led to the identification of the second cannabinoid receptor which was named CB2. CB2 receptors are concentrated throughout the peripheral nervous system and immune system. They are also found throughout the heart, bones, spleen, gut, liver, kidneys, blood vessels, endocrine glands, lymph cells, and reproductive organs. Scientists have concluded that CB1 receptors work to regulate psychoactivity while CB2 receptors modulate the immune system response.

The Discovery of Endocannabinoids

In 1992, Mechoulam worked with Hanus and Devane to find naturally-occurring endocannabinoids that would attach to brain cell cannabinoid receptors the way THC does. They discovered an endocannabinoid that attached to these receptors and named it anandamide which is also referred to as the bliss molecule. Anandamide has many properties that aid in regulating inflammation, motor function, body temperature, anxiety, and eating. In 1995, Mechoulam and his team discovered a second endocannabinoid produced by our biology, naming it 2-arachidonoylglycerol or 2-AG, which attached to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. They concluded that 2-AG regulated the same functions as anandamide in addition to acting as a messenger molecule for balancing signal transmissions in the brain while balancing immune response and inflammation.

By following the metabolic pathways of THC, scientists discovered an unknown molecular signaling system that regulated major physiological functions. They named this lipid-based biochemical system after the plant that led to its revelation. Dr. John McPartland stated that the endocannabinoid system has served a crucial purpose in animal physiology for over 600 million years.

During 1992, the International Cannabinoid Research Society was formed to further research cannabinoids and the newly discovered endocannabinoid system. All of the data collected was backed by US government grants. The International Cannabinoid Research Society was able to conclude that CB1 and CB2 receptors responded to three cannabinoids: endogenous fatty-acid cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), phytocannabinoids derived from cannabis (hemp-derived CBD), and synthetic cannabinoids (lab-synthesized cannabinoids).


The Role of the Endocannabinoid System

Further research conducted showcased successful findings that CB-receptor signaling regulates inflammation, pain, appetite, analgesia, sleep cycles, gastrointestinal mobility, hormones, immune cells, fertility, and mood-altering neurotransmitters. The endocannabinoid system regulates our cognitive process and everyday experiences.

The Endocannabinoid System and CBD

CBD is classified as a phytocannabinoid that’s naturally-occurring within hemp and marijuana. CBD has the same chemical makeup as our endocannabinoids. When CBD is introduced to your body, the cannabinoid receptors trigger numerous biochemical changes that are regulated by the endocannabinoid system. When cannabinoid receptors are triggered by CBD, they promote the same harmonic response caused by our endocannabinoids. The inhibitory feedback system is sparked, stopping the excessive physiological activity and cooling the body’s inflammatory response.


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