In recent years, CBD has been the subject of increasing research. Thanks to that increased scrutiny, we have a better understanding now than ever before about how CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system and, specifically, how CB1 and CB2 receptors work.
Here’s what you need to know about this fascinating system:
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is a complex cell-signaling system. It regulates body functions, including mood, sleep, appetite, memory, fertility, and reproduction.
Endocannabinoids exist within the human body (the prefix “endo” means internal) and are actually neurotransmitters designed to bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and immune system.
As it stands now, experts are still researching and learning about the ECS, but what we’ve learned so far is incredible. The primary purpose of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis in the body. Here’s what the UCLA Health’s Cannabis Research Initiative has to say about the ECS and homeostasis within the human body:
In the 1990s, scientists discovered endocannabinoids, the natural cannabis-like molecules produced by the human body. Scientists began to realize cannabis exerted its effects, in part, by mimicking our endocannabinoids. It appears the primary function of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain bodily homeostasis—biological harmony in response to changes in the environment. Taxonomic investigation revealed that the endocannabinoid system is incredibly old, having evolved over 500 million years ago. Moreover, it is present in all vertebrates—mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, etc., all produce endocannabinoids.
So far, the scientific community knows that the ECS plays an essential role in regulating body function. As it stands now, research has linked the ECS to the following biological processes:
- Reproduction and fertility
- Inflammation and immune system response
- Motor control
- Cardiovascular system function
- And more
The above functions all help the body maintain homeostasis, or a stable internal environment. This is, in fact, one of the most important functions of the ECS, and one aspect scientists continue to study.
CB1 and CB2 Receptors and Homeostasis
The endocannabinoid system’s most important function is to maintain homeostasis. It does this by leveraging endocannabinoids and CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems and the immune system. When the body detects an imbalance with a process regulated by the ECS, it produces cannabinoids that interact with receptors. This generates a chemical process that targets and resolves the imbalance and returns the body to a state of homeostasis, or perfect balance.
As you can see, CB1 and CB2 receptors are incredible structures. One of their most amazing jobs is determining how endocannabinoids AEA and 2-AG interact within the body.
AEA, or anandamide, is an endocannabinoid that is similar in structure to THC. A powerful neurotransmitter, AEA gets its name from the Sanskrit word Ananda, which means “happiness” or “bliss.” As you may imagine, AEA is credited with producing euphoria. While scientists are still studying AEA and all endocannabinoids and their impact on our physiology, we know anandamide regulates processes like memory, pain, body temperature, motivation, and fertility. Amazingly enough, AEA also increases neurogenesis, thus reducing anxiety and inflammation.
2-AG, meanwhile, is a single member of a larger group of molecules that come from arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid is a type of fatty acid that plays a role in cellular signaling and acts as a key inflammatory intermediate as well as a vasodilator, or blood vessel widener.
Short for 2-Arachidonoylglycerol, 2-AG is one of the most common endocannabinoids in the body. It plays a vital role in pain management, immune function, appetite, and addictive behaviors. Made from fat-like molecules within the cell membrane, 2-AG is synthesized on-demand, which means the body makes and uses it when it is needed, instead of producing and storing it for later.
In addition to governing the interactions of AEA and 2-AG, CB1 and CB2 receptors regulate cannabis’s behavioral effects.
Here’s a more in-depth breakdown of each receptor, and its role in the body:
CB1 receptors are G protein-coupled cannabinoid receptors that reside in the nerve cells of the brain and the spinal cord. They are also present in organs like the spleen as well as the white blood cells, endocrine gland, and urinary, gastrointestinal, and reproductive tracts. In the brain, CB1 receptors are most prevalent in the hippocampus and amygdala, both of which play essential roles in memory and emotional regulation. CB1 receptors modulate neurotransmitter release and are some of the most common receptors in the nervous system. In the brain, CB1 receptors affect spinal cord regions, which explains why cannabinoids impact memory, pain regulation, and motor control.
CB2 receptors help modulate inflammation and immune response. They are found within the nervous system, with high concentrations also being present in the spleen, gastrointestinal tract, and immune system. Unlike CB1 receptors, however, there are very few CB2 receptors in the brain. CB2 receptors play an essential role in immune function, pain management, and inflammation. They also govern behaviors associated with reward and addiction by regulating dopamine production and activity within the ventral tegmental brain area.
Both CB1 and CB2 receptors bind with AEA and 2-AG, although they create different effects.
Cannabinoids and the ECS
The body’s naturally-occurring endocannabinoids, such as AEA and 2-AG, are very similar to cannabis-derived cannabinoids like CBD and THC. In fact, researchers currently believe that consuming cannabinoids may help the ECS maintain homeostasis within the body.
The ECS and CBD
Unlike THC, CBD does not bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors. While some cannabinoids bind directly to cannabinoid receptors, CBD interacts indirectly with the receptors. Specifically, CBD activates TRPV1 receptors (vanilloid receptor 1 or capsaicin receptors). This partnership creates a variety of positive effects within the body – including promoting a sense of well-being and encouraging higher levels of anandamide production.
The ECS: One of the Body’s Most Stunning Systems
In summary, the endocannabinoid system relies on three primary players: the endocannabinoids themselves, the cannabinoid receptors, and the enzymes that break down and synthesize endocannabinoids. Together, these three pillars form a stunningly efficient messaging system that governs many of the body’s most critical functions.
In other words: while the ECS and its functions sound complex, its effects are wonderfully simple. The ECS works together with naturally-occurring endocannabinoids as well as the cannabinoids found in cannabis to achieve and maintain homeostasis and to promote optimal health.
Scientists continue to conduct ongoing research into the ECS. While additional research is needed to understand the system and its importance, we know one thing for sure: the ECS is an essential system in the human body. When it functions optimally, it helps keep us happy, healthy, and balanced in our everyday lives.