Did You Know…?

The Endocannabinoid System

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Only discovered a little more than 20 years ago, the endogenous cannabinoid (endocannabinoid) system is of great importance for the normal function of the human body. It may well be among the most important physiologic systems involved in maintaining our health.

The endocannabinoid system is a group of neuromodulatory compounds and their receptors that are involved in a variety of physiological processes including appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory.

Some facts:

  • Endocannabinoid systems have also been found in mammals, birds, amphibians, fish, and many other animals and have likely existed for millions of years.
  • Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the human body and are believed to be more numerous than any other receptor system.
  • Receptors are structures or sites on the surface or interior of a cell that binds with substances such as hormones, antigens, drugs, or neurotransmitters. When cannabinoid receptors are stimulated, a variety of physiologic processes occur.

Two cannabinoid receptors are currently known: CB1 – mostly found in the nervous system, connective tissues, and organs, and CB2 – principally found in the immune system. Many tissues contain both CB1 and CB2 receptors, each resulting in different actions. Researchers speculate there may be additional cannabinoid receptor types yet to be discovered.

Cannabinoids Encourage Homeostasis

Cannabinoids promote homeostasis (the tendency to be stable and constant) from the cellular level to the overall organism. For example, within cells, regulated mechanisms digest and recycle dysfunctional cellular material in order to maintain health. The endocannabinoid system plays a key role in managing those mechanisms. This process keeps normal cells alive, allowing them to maintain a balance between the synthesis, degradation, and subsequent recycling of cellular products. At the same time, it helps kill abnormal cells.

In addition to occurring throughout the human body, cannabinoid receptors are found at the interfaces of various systems and their cell types. At the site of an injury, for example, cannabinoids can be found decreasing the release of compounds which sensitize the injured tissue, thus stabilizing and calming local nerve and immune cells and reducing the release of pro-inflammatory substances.

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