The endocannabinoid system, often referred to as the ECS, is an intricate cell-signaling system that plays a crucial role in regulating physiological processes in humans and pets, such as pain and inflammation. This system was first discovered in the 1990 and since it consists of a complex network of receptors across the body. We decided to simplify the whole article and call it Endocannabinoid system for dummies so that everyone can learn and understand what the ECS is, what it does and why it is important.
ECS Overview: The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is vital in regulating physiological processes in humans and pets, including pain and inflammation, discovered in the 1990s.
Receptors Explained: ECS consists of CB1 receptors in the brain/CNS and CB2 receptors in immune cells, crucial for signal transmission in the body.
Cannabinoids vs. Endocannabinoids: Cannabinoids (like THC, CBD) from cannabis plants interact with ECS, affecting mood, pain, etc. Endocannabinoids (like anandamide, 2-AG) are naturally produced by the body, regulating various functions.
Enzymes in ECS: Enzymes such as FAAH and MAGL break down endocannabinoids, maintaining balance and preventing over-stimulation. CBD modulates ECS by inhibiting FAAH, prolonging anandamide effects, and providing potential therapeutic benefits without a 'high'.
Endocannabinoid Deficiency: Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CED) might be linked to various health issues.
ECS in Pets: Similar to humans, pets have an ECS that helps regulate body functions like sleep and pain.
A Gentle Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System
The ECS, at times referred to as the endogenous cannabinoid system, consists of a network of receptors that work together to maintain homeostasis, a state of balance, within the body. The system is not limited to humans; it exists in all vertebrates, including pets, and some invertebrates.
In order for endocannabinoids to work, they need to bind to something that has the capability of transmitting signals inside the cell. These receptors are located throughout the body, and known as CB1 and CB2 receptors, are found in various tissues and organs. CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and central nervous system (CNS), while CB2 receptors are predominantly located in immune cellsthroughout the body.
What are Cannabinoids and Endocannabinoids?
Cannabinoids, natural and phytocannabinoids, are chemical compounds found in cannabis plants,including hemp and marijuana. They can interact with the ECS, and modulate mood, appetite, pain sensation, and inflammation.
Endocannabinoids, on the other hand, are cannabinoids naturally produced within the human body. They act as neurotransmitters, influencing the nervous system, immune system, and various normal processes.
Derived primarily from the Cannabis plant (e.g., THC, CBD).
Naturally produced by the human and animal bodies.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol (CBD).
Anandamide (AEA), 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).
CB1 and CB2 receptors.
Same receptors (CB1 and CB2)
Influence mood, appetite, pain sensation, inflammation, and other processes.
Regulate various functions including mood, memory, pain, etc.
Externally obtained and introduced into the body.
Endogenously produced by the body as needed.
Often more stable and longer-lasting in their effects.
Rapidly synthesized and degraded, leading to shorter, more localized effects.
Legal status varies by region and specific compound (e.g., THC vs. CBD).
Naturally occurring in the body and not subject to legal regulation.
Used in various medicinal applications, pain relief, anti-inflammatory effects.
Research into therapeutic applications is ongoing, particularly in neuromodulation and homeostasis.
Some cannabinoids (like THC) are psychoactive.
Non-psychoactive; do not produce a 'high'.
The Role of Cannabinoids and Endocannabinoids
Cannabinoids, both natural and phytocannabinoids, interact with endocannabinoid receptors, mimicking the effects of endocannabinoids. While endocannabinoids are produced by your body, cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis plants, such as hemp and marijuana.
Endocannabinoids, like anandamide and 2-AG, act as neurotransmitters, influencing the nervous system, immune system, and various daily processes. They play a role in the regulation of pain, inflammation, appetite, and other bodily functions.
The endocannabinoid anandamide, or N-arachidonoylethanolamine, is also known as the "bliss molecule" is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, pain, and appetite. It is an endogenous compound, meaning that it's made by your body.
2-AG, or 2-arachidonoylglycerol, is less well known than anandamide, but it bids with a higher affinity to CB1 and CB2
Although anandamide binds to cannabinoid receptors with a higher affinity than 2-AG, it acts only as a partial agonist (Mackie et al., 1993), while 2-AG acts as a full agonist at these receptors(Gonsiorek et al., 2000; Savinainen et al., 2001) (J Neurosci. 2011 May 11; 31(19): 7043–7048)
Even the best-known cannabinoids, such as THC, CBD, and CBG, exhibit varying effects due to how they work with different receptors in the ECS.
Enzymes Within The ECS
Enzymes in the ECS play a crucial role by breaking down and recycling molecules after they have fulfilled their function. These enzymes are responsible to ensure that the whole system remains balanced and functions properly, maintaining internal homeostasis. The main ones involved in this process are fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL). They both work by breaking down endocannabinoids, thus limiting potential hyper-activation of their receptors and maintaining brain health without having intoxicating properties.
FAAH breaks down anandamide, an endocannabinoid that affects pain sensation, mood, and appetite. By inhibiting FAAH, the breakdown of anandamide can be reduced, potentially prolonging its effects and providing pain relief, improved mood, and appetite regulation.
MAGL controls the levels of a different endocannabinoid called 2-AG. 2-AG plays a significant role in inflammation and immune response. By modulating the activity of MAGL, the levels of 2-AG can be regulated, potentially influencing immune health and inflammation.
The Impact of CBD on the Endocannabinoid System
One of the most widely recognized cannabinoids is CBD. CBD doesn't get you "high", and many believe CBD works by inhibiting the breakdown of anandamide. Anandamide, is broken down by FAAH. The cool thing is that CBD inhibits FAAH, therefore prolonging the life of anandamide.
We confirmed this result showing that cannabidiol inhibits FAAH in rat brain membranes with a median effective concentration of 8.6±0.2 μ (n=12). [...] To determine whether treatment with cannabidiol reduces FAAH activity in our study subjects, we measured anandamide concentrations in serum before and after exposure to cannabidiol or amisulpride. Anandamide levels were higher in subjects exposed to cannabidiol than in those exposed to amisulpride [...] the serum levels of two additional FAAH substrates [...] were also elevated in schizophrenic patients treated with cannabidiol, compared with those treated with amisulpride.(Transl Psychiatry. 2012 Mar; 2(3))
Since CBD interacts directly with other receptors too, through this indirect effect and many other mechanisms it can modulate the activity of the ECS.
Does endocannabinoid deficiency affect the body?
Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CED) is a concept that describes low levels of two endocannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG, and the association with health conditions. CED could therefore be linked to severe health issues such as migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and even more complex disorders of a nervous nature.
The literature suggests that CED may be a condition that could be addressed to restore the body's levels of endocannabinoids. However, the studies are scarce and more research is needed to validate these findings.
Do Pets Have the ECS?
The ECS, as previously mentioned, is not exclusive to humans. Pets, including dogs, cats, and other animals, possess an endocannabinoid system.
The Role of the Endocannabinoid System in Humans and Pets
In pets, the ECS helps regulate various bodily functions, including sleep patterns, appetite, and pain sensation. Similar to humans, the ECS in pets maintains homeostasis, promoting overall well-being and maintains healthy bodily functions.
It responds to natural cannabinoids, the chemical compounds, aka terpenes, found in the hemp plant, which may aid in the entourage effect, where different cannabinoids work together to provide health benefits.
Similarities in the ECS
The similarities of the ECS between humans and pets are quite high. Pet's ECS has two main receptors too: CB1 receptors, primarily found in the brain and CNS, and CB2 receptors, which are distributed throughout the body, particularly in immune cells.
The enzyme’s pool is also the same. In fact, the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL), play a crucial role in pets too for the breakdown of anandamide and 2-AG, preventing over-stimulation of the system.
The Significance of THC and CBD in the Endocannabinoid System
THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, and CBD, are two of the most well-known cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. These cannabinoids have different effects on the endocannabinoid system, contributing to the diverse therapeutic applications of cannabis products.
Do THC and CBD Target the Same Receptors?
No, THC and CBD do not use the same receptors. THC bindsprimarily the CB1 receptors, which are concentrated in the brain and CNS, leading to the intoxicating effects commonly associated with marijuana use.
CBD, on the other hand, has a low affinity for both CB1 and CB2 receptors, but can indirectly modulate their activity.
The different properties of THC and CBD contribute to their distinct effects on the body and mind, emphasizing the importance of choosing the cannabinoid profile that best suits your needs.
Differentiating the Effects of THC and CBD
THC, the intoxicating cannabinoid, can alter the transmission of signals in the brain and nervous system, THC can produce a range of effects, including pain relief, relaxation, and a feeling of "high."
On the other hand, CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, influences the endocannabinoid system by enhancing the effects of endocannabinoids, inhibiting the breakdown of anandamide, and reducing inflammation. The effects of CBD on the endocannabinoid system differ from those of THC, emphasizing its potential health benefits without the intoxicating effect.
Engaging in regular physical exercise has also been shown to increase the production of endocannabinoids, contributing to the support of the endocannabinoid system. Exercise can help maintain a state of balance within the body, promoting overall health.
Using trained male college students running on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike for 50 min at 70-80% of maximum heart rate, we report here the first evidence that exercise of moderate intensity activates the endocannabinoid system, suggesting a new mechanism for exercise-induced analgesia and possibly other physiological and psychological adaptations to exercise.(Neuroreport. 2003 Dec 2;14(17):2209-11)
Adequate sleep patterns, stress management, and social interactions also play a role in maintaining a healthy endocannabinoid system. Prioritizing sleep, engaging in stress-reducing activitiessuch as meditation or yoga, and fostering meaningful connections with others can positively impact the endocannabinoid system.
Incorporating CBD products into your wellness routine can also support the endocannabinoid system by modulating the activity of CB1 and CB2. However, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional before using cannabis products, as they can change how other medications work and cause potential side effects.
While complex, the endocannabinoid system is generally well regulated in humans and pets. It is a crucial component of your body's daily functions, and modulating its functions can improve pain management, mood, behavior, and overall well-being. It's important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the complexities of this system and its potential applications as therapeutic agents.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What do cannabinoids do to the body?
A: Cannabinoids have various effects on the body by working with the ECS. These effects include pain relief, relaxation, and anti-inflammatory properties. The well-known cannabinoids THC and CBD produce these effects, but individual experiences may vary depending on consumption method.
Q: What does the ECS do for pain?
A: The ECS plays a crucial role in regulating pain perception. Through its cannabinoid receptors, it can help reduce pain signals. Endocannabinoids like anandamide and 2-AG activate these receptors, offering potential pain relief benefits. Targeting the ECS with cannabinoids like CBD may provide further relief for pain.
Q: How does the ECS affect our mood and behavior?
A: The ECSplays a crucial role in regulating mood and behavior by binding to receptors in the brain. It helps regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are involved in our emotions and behavior. Research suggests that imbalances in this system may contribute to conditions such as anxiety and depression. Cannabinoids from cannabis plants, such as CBD, may potentially improve mood and reduce anxiety.
Q: How does cannabis interact with the endocannabinoid system?
A: Cannabis contains compounds called cannabinoids, which are very similar to naturally occurring cannabinoids in the body. For instance, THC targets directly the receptors and causes a “high”, while CBD oil finctions differently with the receptors, enhancing their functionality.
Q: Where are the cannabinoid receptors located in the body?
A: The cannabinoid receptors are distributed throughout the body in the central and peripheral nervous systems. They are not only located in the brain but also in other parts, such as immune cells, peripheral nerves, skin, fat tissue, bone, the heart, liver, and the gastrointestinal tract. This is why the body’s endocannabinoid system plays a key role in a wide range of functions.
Q: How does CBD oil bind the receptors?
A: Unlike THC, CBD oil does not directly target the cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it has a complex multi-pathway state of interest. It influences the receptors and increases the level of endocannabinoids by modulating enzymes responsible for their breakdown. Besides, CBD also targets with various non-cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
Q: Can cannabis help with pain and other medical conditions?
A: Yes, the use of cannabis or cannabinoid products can help with pain relief and treat conditions like arthritis. The cannabinoids in cannabis are known to target the cannabinoid receptors in our body, which contribute to pain perception among other functions. Some studies suggest that it also lowers the incidence of diabetes, though more research needs to be done on this topic.
Q: How does the world of cannabis play a role in our daily life?
A: The world of cannabis plays an integral role in our daily life. The cannabinoids found in cannabis products, including CBD oil from hemp and cannabis, directly or indirectly modulate the ECS. This interaction can promote homeostasis in the body, affecting mood, decreasing or increasing appetite, improving sleep, and pain among other functions.
Q: Are the physiological functions of receptors limited to the nervous systems?
A: No, the ECS receptors are also found elsewhere in the body including the immune system cells, skin, bone, liver, and heart. Thus, they regulate many processes beyond just the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Q: How does CBD oil from marijuana differ from other sources?
A: The CBD oil from marijuana tends to contain higher concentrations of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than an oil derived from the hemp plant. It also contains a wider spectrum of cannabinoids as compared to when it is derived from hemp.
Q: Can boosting one’s endocannabinoid system help with pain management?
A: Yes. Enhancing the body’s endocannabinoid production or preventing the breakdown of these cannabinoids can have beneficial effects. As these cannabinoids target CB1 and CB2 receptors, they can help manage pain, reduce inflammation, and even promote a state of calm or reduce anxiety.
Q: Is there a difference between naturally occurring cannabinoids and those from plants?
A: Naturally occurring cannabinoids, also known as endocannabinoids, such as anandamide and 2-arachidonic glycerol (2-AG), resemble those found in plants, but they are produced by our bodies. They target CB1 and CB2 similarly as the cannabinoids in cannabis.
Seb has been a research scientist for the past two decades and is the founder and owner of My Blissful Pet. Seb grew up with cats and dogs and married his passion for science and animals with My Blissful Pet by wanting to help dogs and cats live healthier lives.