by Denise Foster
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is our body’s master regulator, helping to preserve homeostasis. When the ECS was discovered, scientists identified receptors that are activated by our body’s own “marijuana” compounds. The compounds that activate the ECS are known as endocannabinoids (ECBs). They activate either the cannabinoid-1 receptor (CB1), found mainly in the central nervous system, or the cannabinoid-2 receptor (CB2), found throughout all bodily organs and tissues. When the cannabinoid receptors are activated, they, in turn, signal the body’s systems to work more efficiently and effectively. The ECS nudges the body’s delicate balance between illness and wellness.
The two ECBs made by our body are 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) and anandamide. However, compounds found in cannabis, like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), mimic ECBs and are the only other compounds to activate cannabinoid receptors. This explains why these compounds create their effects: they work with the cannabinoid receptors to help nudge the body back to wellness by promoting appropriate responses in our physiological systems.
When THC is administered in low doses, it provides beneficial effects: pain relief, prevention of nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation, decreased muscle spasms, and aiding sleep
CBD indirectly stimulates the ECS, preventing the cannabinoid receptors from being inappropriately activated. This protects the nervous and immune system from stress. In this definition of “stress,” CBD acts as an antioxidant to protect against harmful influences. This is one of the reasons the US Department of Health and Human Services patented cannabis as an antioxidant and neuroprotectant in 2003, noting it could be “useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia” (US Patent No. US6630507B1).
THC mimics anandamide. Anandamide was named after the Sanskrit word meaning bliss because it activates the CB1 receptor, creating a feeling of joy, like a runner’s high. THC activates the same receptor, creating its psycho-impairing effects of feeling “high.” Additionally, when THC is administered in low doses, it provides beneficial effects: pain relief, prevention of nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation, decreased muscle spasms, and aiding sleep. There is even increasing evidence that THC destroys cancer cells, limits tumor growth, and unmasks the tumor for detection and destruction by the immune system.
Both CBD and THC work together to balance the body’s response to pain, inflammation, stress, and inappropriate nerve activity. Finding the ideal ratio of these compounds for a particular condition is a key part of the approach to using cannabinoid therapy.