Article by Dr Frank, Cannabis Culture
The ultimate goal of the endocannabinoid system ECS is homeostasis – the maintenance of a constant internal environment. Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters – chemical messengers that send instructions to cells.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is involved in the regulation of a variety of physiological and cognitive processes, including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, memory, fertility, pre- and postnatal development, immune system function, motivation (especially voluntary exercise and exercise-induced euphoria), body temperature and, of course, mediating the pharmacological effects of cannabis. They can even influence our taste, and activating CB1 receptors may actually make sweet things taste sweeter!
The ECS is made up of three main parts:
- “Endocannabinoids” – so called because the body produces its own cannabinoids – anandamide (aka arachidonoylethanolamide, AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). AEA is analogous to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), whilst 2-AG is analogous to cannabidiol (CBD). THC and CBD are often called “phytocannabinoids”, as they are produced outside of the body. The term “cannabinoids” refers to all cannabinoids, endo- or phyto-. Cannabinoids are ligands, meaning they are molecules that bind to form a complex that produces a specific chemical signal or neurotransmission.
- The cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, which are G protein-coupled receptors. This means that they can detect molecules outside of the cell and can activate signal transduction pathways and cellular responses. CB1 receptors are found mostly in the brain and nervous system, as well as peripheral organs and tissues. There is much debate as to where CB2 receptors are expressed, but they may be found in the brain (to a lesser degree than CB2 receptors), immune system and gastrointestinal system. There could be other cannabinoid receptors – research is still needed in this area. Cannabinoid receptors are found on the cell membrane, and cells may contain either one or both cannabinoid receptors, depending on their function.
- The enzymes that synthesize and degrade cannabinoids, like fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MGL).
THC, CBD, cannabigerol (CBG), and the endocannabinoid system was first discovered by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and his students, postdoctorals and collaborators, although 2-AG was first discovered by Shimon Ben-Shabat. Much of Dr. Mechoulam’s work continues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and other doctors and scientists like Ethan Russo, M.D. are carrying on their work.