Endocannabinoids are a group of lipid compounds (fatlike) that are produced by some invertebrates and all vertebrates including humans.
Their classification is based on their biological activity, which is often similar to that of the main psychoactive phytocannabinoid (plant cannabinoid) delta-9 tetrahydrocanabinol (THC) found in the marijuana plant.
The first endocannabinoid discovered was, arachidonyl ethanolamine, and was named anandamide (ananda is Sanskrit for bliss, hence the blissful amide).
Subsequently, 2-arachidonoyl glycerol was isolated from canine gut and identified as a second endocannabinoid. Both of these chemicals are ultimately made from essential fatty acids such as are found in fish and seed oils.
An as yet unanswered question is how much of the health benefits attributed to essential fatty acids such as omega 3’s are due to their products, endocannabinoids?
When cannabinoid receptors are activated, various biochemical properties in cells are altered, as is communication with other cells. The Pandora’s Box of endocannabinoids and their modes of action has been opened.
Today a number of additional endocannabinoids have been reported and their possible therapeutic applications are under investigation.
Obesity, particularly abdominal obesity, and the associated cardiometabolic complications, are critical areas of investigation. The endocannabinoid system helps to regulate the central control of energy balance and peripheral metabolic processes, both of which may contribute to cardiometabolic risk factors.
Cannabis or marijuana helps many different conditions and provides both palliative and curative actions with safe yet powerful effects. The endocannabinoid system is a physiologic central component of the health and healing of every human and almost every animal.
Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.
Cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every level of biological life, from the sub-cellular, to the organism, and perhaps to the community and beyond. Autophagy; a process in which a cell sequesters part of its contents to be self-digested and recycled, is mediated by the cannabinoid system.
While this process keeps normal cells alive, allowing them to maintain a balance between the synthesis, degradation, and subsequent recycling of cellular products, it has a deadly effect on malignant tumor cells, causing them to consume themselves in a programmed cellular suicide. The death of cancer cells, of course, promotes homeostasis and survival at the level of the entire organism.
Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are also found at the intersection of the body’s various systems, allowing communication and coordination between different cell types.
At the site of an injury, cannabinoids can be found decreasing the release of activators and sensitizers from the injured tissue, stabilizing the nerve cell to prevent excessive firing, and calming nearby immune cells to prevent release of pro-inflammatory substances.
Cannabinoid receptors are present throughout the body, embedded in cell membranes, and are believed to be more numerous than any other receptor system. When cannabinoid receptors are stimulated, a variety of physiologic processes ensue.
Researchers have identified two cannabinoid receptors: CB1, predominantly present in the nervous system, connective tissues, gonads, glands, and organs; and CB2, predominantly found in the immune system and its associated structures. Many tissues contain both CB1 and CB2 receptors, each linked to a different action.
Endocannabinoids are the substances our bodies naturally make to stimulate these receptors. The two most well understood of these molecules are called anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).
They are synthesized on-demand from cell membrane arachidonic acid derivatives, have a local effect and short half-life before being degraded by the enzymes fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL).
Phytocannabinoids are plant substances that stimulate cannabinoid receptors.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the most psychoactive and certainly the most famous of these substances, but other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) have a variety of healing properties.
The cannabis plant also uses THC and other cannabinoids to promote its own health and prevent disease.
Cannabinoids have antioxidant properties that protect the leaves and flowering structures from ultraviolet radiation – cannabinoids neutralize the harmful free radicals generated by UV rays, protecting the cells.
In humans, free radicals cause aging, cancer, and impaired healing. Antioxidants found in plants have long been promoted as natural supplements to prevent free radical harm.
A functional cannabinoid system is essential for health. From embryonic implantation on the wall of our mother’s uterus, to nursing and growth, to responding to injuries, endocannabinoids help us survive in a quickly changing and increasingly hostile environment.