The endocannabinioid system even regulates other neurotransmitters in your body. If you’re unfamiliar with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), you are in for a mind-bogling learning experience. The ECS is this amazing network of cell-level receptors positioned throughout your entire body.
It’s one of the most abundant protein receptors in the brain, and you can also find these cannabinoid receptors in your organs, your skin, your bones, and connective tissues. Also found throughout your body are the cannabinoid receptors’ counterpart: endocannabinoids. These cannabinoids produced by your body bind with the CB receptors to complete a neurotransmission process that affects almost every part of your body.
Does frequent marijuana use have any long-term effects on the ECS?
It’s a good question, and to my knowledge we don’t have a precise answer yet thanks to all those restrictions on research. We do however have a study that followed cannabis consumers around for 20 years and found the only negative effect on health was increased risk for periodontal disease.
Sounds like an otherwise healthy endocannabinoid system to me. We also know that aside from cannabis’s remarkable safety profile, regular cannabis consumers are less likely to experience diabetes or obesity, which is one example of how this plant can contribute to overall health and wellness. And it’s not uncommon to find people in their 70s or 80s who have been consuming cannabis for 40+ years.
Which metabolic processes does the ECS help regulate?
As Dr. Sunil Aggarwal pointed out during CHS 2016, the ECS plays a role in processes such as:
- Mood regulation
- Pain perception
- Muscle tone and movement
- Extinction of traumatic memory
- Protection of nerves and brain tissue
- Bone growth
- Tumor regulation
- Baby breast-feeding reward
- Stress management
- Eye pressure
- Gastrointestinal motility
- Seizure activity
- And many others
When I interviewed Dr. Raphael Mechoulam in 2016, one of the scientists who helped discover the ECS, he shared with me his suspicions that it may even play a role in defining our personalities! One place in your body where you DON’T have CB receptors is your brain stem, which is why it’s impossible to have a lethal overdose on cannabis.
Why is the ECS named after cannabis?
Anybody who still demonizes this plant needs to be educated on the facts.
When scientists first discovered the ECS in the late 1980s, they did so by observing how THC interacted with the body. They saw how the THC molecule was binding with all these receptors in our brain and soon discovered them throughout most of the body.
This led to the discovery of the endocannabinoids, and now we’re learning more about things like endocannabinoid deficiency and other dysfunctions susceptible in the ECS, and how we can use cannabis to help keep the system healthy. Simply put, we may not have ever discovered this all-important system in our bodies if it weren’t for cannabis.
Is consuming too much cannabis harmful to your endocannabinoid system?
We all have our own ideal dosage range for cannabis. A lot of people are overconsuming and don’t even know it.
In the short-term, cannabis can definitely interfere with your ECS – if you’re over consuming. Remember, the ECS is all about balance. Tipping it too much in either direction can have adverse effects. It’s helpful to recognize that cannabis is a biphasic substance. This means, for example, if you use it for nausea it can help you, but if you take too much it could make your nausea worse. Same thing when you use cannabis for things like anxiety, depression, pain etc.
The tone or the temperature of your ECS signaling becomes too loud when you use too much for your specific physiology. Secondly, heavy cannabis use will likely raise your tolerance over a short period of time, requiring larger doses for the desired effects. As your tolerance increases your CB receptors are essentially down-regulating. They’re not as cannabinoid hungry anymore and so they become less pronounced. When this happens the benefits of cannabis can decrease substantially. A 48-hour break at the minimum is usually enough for the CB receptors to reset themselves, and you can resume with smaller doses of cannabis and increased benefits.
What does the ECS actually look like?
How do cannabinoids interact with the ECS exactly? Missing from this graphic: CBD, which has valuable, indirect effects on the ECS.
Cannabinoids act both directly and indirectly on our cannabinoid receptors (also known as CB receptors).
The ECS is a cellular-level system, which means you can’t see it with the naked eye.
However, if you were to shrink yourself down to molecular size, you’d see that these protein-based cannabinoid receptors are positioned on the very surface of your cells.
Martin Lee of Project CBD does a great job at describing this in his article about the discovery of the ECS, writing how the cannabinoid receptor “consists of 472 amino acids strung together in a crumpled chain that squiggles back and forth across the cell membrane seven times.”
He continues: “Cannabinoid receptors function as subtle sensing devices, tiny vibrating scanners perpetually primed to pick up biochemical cues that flow through fluids surrounding each cell.” Some cannabinoids can act as agonists, which means they activate certain receptors. Other cannabinoids can act as antagonists – essentially deactivating receptors. If the ECS is not functioning properly, the right combination and amount of cannabinoids can help supplement the system and get all those signals to work properly.
Do terpenes also interact with the ECS?
Generally terpenes do not interact with the ECS but rather other parts of your physiology. The exception would be beta-caryophyllene (also found in black pepper). Researchers have found this terpene actually binds with CB2 receptors, acting as an agonist or activator. This finding would suggest that the terpene beta-caryophyllene is actually a cannabinoid!
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