Everything You Need to Know About the Endocannabinoid System 

First identified in the early 1990s, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) has emerged as an important neuromodulatory system over recent years. The complex cell-signaling system regulates and controls many bodily functions, active in the body without the use of cannabis. A growing understanding of the ECS and the role it plays in a wide-range of biological pathways has placed it at the center of increasing international research and drug development efforts. As a result, the burgeoning field of ECS-targeted therapeutics and their approved applications in clinical practice are likely to expand exponentially in the near future.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system relies on three components: endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. Endocannabinoids, also known as endogenous cannabinoids, are produced naturally by the body to facilitate a variety of biological processes.

Endocannabinoid receptors can be found throughout the body; the main receptors are CB1 found in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors, located in the peripheral nervous system. The demonstrated effects of endocannabinoids are reliant upon the receptor location and type that they bind to.

For example, endocannabinoids targeting CB1 receptors in the spinal nerve can relieve local pain. Others might bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body’s experiencing inflammation, a common sign of autoimmune disorders.

Research reveals that CB1 receptors outnumber many of the other receptor types in the brain, controlling the levels and activity of other neurotransmitters. Meanwhile, CB2 receptors primarily exist in immune cells and are critical to modulating immunocompetence and inflammatory levels.

Finally, the third component of the system, enzymes, are responsible for the synthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids once they have fulfilled their function. These include fatty acid amide hydrolase and monoacylglycerol acid lipase.

The Role of the Endocannabinoid System

Still a topic of research, the endocannabinoid system has been shown to regulate and control many vital functions, playing an important role in central nervous system development, synaptic plasticity, as well as responses to endogenous and environmental triggers. It has also been found to impact sleep patterns, emotional processing, appetite, learning and memory, reproductive health, and immunocompetence. Although the ECS performs a variety of different tasks, it does with the same goal of homeostasis, or the maintenance of a stable internal environment.

Interactions with THC and CBD

Tetrohydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabidiol (CBD) are both compounds found in cannabis that directly interact with the endocannabinoid system. Similarly to endocannabinoids, both THC and CBD bind to ECS receptors. THC binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors allowing it to produce a range of physiological and psychological effects.

Experts are still working to understand the precise mechanisms of how CBD interacts with the ECS system, with current evidence pointing to its role in preventing endocannabinoid degradation allowing endocannabinoids to have a more potent effect. Current literature suggests CBD can ease pain, nausea, and other symptoms associated with a large range of health conditions.

In order to best utilize the effects of these compounds on the ECS, research efforts aim to produce synthetic THC cannabinoids and CBD-based therapeutics that modulate the endocannabinoid system to produce optimal health benefits.

Therapeutic Targets 

As emerging research has shown, cannabinoids are a promising potential therapeutic intervention for a range of chronic diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular and autoimmune conditions, as well as neurological health. Therapeutics targeting the endocannabinoid system can also influence numerous physiological conditions namely, energy balance, blood pressure management, memory and learning support, embryonic development, nausea control, and appetite stimulation. CBD-based therapies have already been introduced in the treatment of pediatric epilepsy, pain, inflammation, acne, and other conditions with a continuously growing list of approved indications.

Key Takeaways 

The endocannabinoid system is comprised of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes that work to sustain and stabilize critical biological processes. While research in this field continues, current knowledge indicates the vital function of the endocannabinoid system in maintaining homeostasis and supports further study of potential therapeutic interventions for the treatment of a variety of health conditions.

At the upcoming A4M 29th Annual World Congress taking place between December 9-12, 2021, industry leading faculty members will delve deeper into the latest research developments and clinical insights in the cannabinoid field. As part of comprehensive regenerative medicine training, sessions will provide actionable education across a spectrum of the most clinically relevant topics. Register today to reserve your spot by clicking here.