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the endocannabinoid system

How Does the Endocannabinoid System Control the Effects of Medical Marijuana?

Medically Reviewed by: Andrew Bucciarelli, BS, PharmD, RPh
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Many people are surprised to learn that we already have chemicals within our own bodies that mirror the effects of marijuana use. These chemicals are internally produced and make up our three-part system, the endocannabinoid system, along with its complementary receptors and enzymes.

The Endocannabinoid System’s Purpose

So, why do we even have the endocannabinoid system? This is a biological system in our bodies capable of interacting with the cannabis plant and its active chemical compounds, like THC. However, it’s not just there for us to enjoy the effects of our favorite medical marijuana strain (though that’s a bonus!). It serves a vital purpose for our health and well-being because it regulates key aspects of our biology.  More specifically, the endocannabinoid system in our body plays an important role in:

  • Appetite
  • Digestion
  • Immune function
  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Reproduction/fertility
  • Motor control
  • Temperature regulation
  • Memory
  • Pain and inflammation
  • Pleasure/reward

Its existence makes sense once you learn how it plays an integral role in the fundamental process of homeostasis.  If you aren’t familiar with this term, remember that homeostasis refers to the body’s essential need to keep everything in balance. The brain and its complementary systems, including the endocannabinoid system, manage homeostasis. Some people call this optimal balance “the Goldilocks zone.”  This is because of the body’s need to be neither too hot nor too cold, but “just right,” as was the porridge of choice for Goldilocks in the fairy tale.

However, the endocannabinoid system is not defined by its physical structure, but by its functions and components. A more accurate description would be that it is a specific class of chemicals, enzymes and receptors, which form a signal system. These signals work to foster and facilitate homeostasis.

The Endocannabinoid System’s Role in Medical Marijuana

The discovery of the endocannabinoid system is great news for us. Research in this area points to more efficient ways to harness its potential for managing health in many situations.

Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids, called anandamide and 2-AG, to help keep our internal functions running smoothly.  Endocannabinoids are produced only when needed – and only in the area that needs it. However, research suggests that long distance runners produce high amounts of anandamide once completing a run.  High amounts of anandamide have been linked to reduced anxiety, a sense of calmness and euphoria. Like what we see from consuming cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, in medical marijuana. THC (tetrahydrocannabinoland CBD (cannabidiol) are the two most widely known cannabinoids. They work in different ways to help regulate the endocannabinoid system.  But where are the targets for these molecules to give their effects? That’s where the receptors come into play.  

The receptor system, known as CB1 and CB2 receptors, operates in various parts of the body on the surfaces of different cells. The CB1 type is said to consist of receptors on cells in the brain, the central nervous system, and various other cells. The marijuana plant’s THC interacts with the receptors in the CB1 system.  The CB2 type exists in cells that make up our immune, digestive, and peripheral nervous system. Cannabinol (CBN) has been found to work with this receptor. As mentioned before, there are other receptor types in the body, as well as other cannabinoids.  For example, CBD doesn’t really act on the CB1 or CB2 receptors, but it still plays an important role for other receptors and cannabinoids.  Next, we will discuss how the body eliminates the endocannabinoids and cannabinoids. 

Enzymes are responsible for identifying and removing endocannabinoids and cannabinoids.  Enzymes that break down the endocannabinoids differ from those that break down the cannabinoids. But the enzymes all have the same function.  And that function is to eliminate the compounds to bring balance back to the body.  Or as we said before, return the body to homeostasis.  

This is only the tip of the iceberg in understanding how plant cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system in our bodies. Research continually grows as we continue to uncover more about medical marijuana and the different benefits it can offer.   It’s now known that taking as many of the compounds that the medical marijuana plant naturally offers creates a synergistic effect.  We call this the entourage effect. 

For more information about medical marijuana, check out our PA medical marijuana page. If you have additional questions about Solevo Wellness, you can check out our FAQ page or follow us on Facebook and direct message our team anytime.  We’d love to hear from you!