In obtaining information about the beneficial effects of cannabis it quickly becomes clear that this plant has a strong influence on the human body. It is quite unique that one plant can affect so many different parts of our body and mind. But how is this possible? How can one compound have such a wide range of effects? And if it is so powerful, how can it also be safe at the same time?
The search for answers to these questions has led to the discovery and ongoing unraveling of the endocannabinoid system, a physiologically central part of the human body as it turns out.
The endocannabinoid system was discovered in 1990 by Miles Herkenham and today is considered one of the most important medical discoveries after sterile surgical techniques and antibiotics. Over the years the realization has taken root that the endocannabinoid system is one of the key control systems of our entire physiology.
The way it regulates and modulates homeostasis is unique and fascinating. Almost with every indication involving dysregulation at the cellular level, the endocannabinoid system plays an important role. It is therefore clear that it is of great importance for the body’s normal functioning.
The endocannabinoid system evolved over 600 million years ago and from an evolutionary perspective it is very interesting that the same system is found across many phylogenetically diverse organisms. Mammals, fish, sea urchins and molluscs all have an innate cannabis system.
Co-evolution of cannabis and humans
One theory has it that man and the cannabis plant are evolutionary partners. The complex symbiosis between man and the cannabis plant hint at an indissoluble bond and co-evolution. This is not only on the basis of the physio-chemical makeup, but also because of the long history of human use of the plant.
Co-evolution is the interaction between two forms of life which positively affects the development of both species. For example, think of bees that pollinate flowers in exchange for nectar. The key condition for co-evolution is mutual interest and benefit, and eventually interdependence.
Another feature of co-evolution lies in physical changes that would not otherwise have occurred. Bees, but also other insects and birds, have developed particular tongue dimensions, body shapes and colors to make the most of the interaction with co-evolved partners. Plants, on the other hand, developed nectar, particular stem lengths and particular flower shapes.
Based on observations from nature and basic evolutionary principles, we can conclude that part of the co-evolution theory is appropriate in understanding cannabis. The association between the cannabis plant and man has a mutual benefit, it involved apparent physiological and biological changes (the endocannabinoid system), although, on the other hand, there is no interdependence.
The cannabis plant and human beings would also have evolved independently from each other. Equally, if one of the two were to disappear, this would not be the end of the other. With bees and specific plant species this would be the case! Despite the fact that co-evolution theory is not completely waterproof, it remains a fact that man has evolved along with the cannabis plant and that its use can indeed be traced back thousands of years.
The endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system, or the body's internal "cannabis system", is one of the most extensive metabolic systems of the body. When exogenous cannabinoids such as those from the cannabis plant enter the body they influence various body processes. The endocannabinoid system can safely be considered as one of the main command and control centers of the body. This system makes it possible for metabolism to adapt and respond to the world around us.
This sophisticated body's own communication system is so impressive that the cannabinoid receptors, which belong to the G-Protein Coupled Receptors group, play a direct role in every aspect of the human body.
The last two decades have revealed many new insights into the functioning of the endocannabinoid system and its components. This neuro-modulation system consists of cannabinoid receptors, endogenous ligands and various enzymes responsible for synthesis and degradation. The complexity of the interactions between many different cannabinoids, cell types, systems, and so on, explains the fact that new discoveries are ongoing.
Cannabinoid receptors are found scattered throughout the body, indeed in larger amounts than any other receptor system. There are different types of cannabinoid receptors, but the two main receptors are the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptor is mainly found in the nervous system, connective tissue, testis, other glands and organs. The CB2 receptor is mainly present in the immune system and associated structures. Many tissues contain a combination of both receptors, however, and some researchers predict that it will not take long before a third cannabis receptor is found.
Endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids
Endocannabinoids are the "cannabis" molecules produced by the body itself to stimulate cannabinoid receptors. Endocannabinoids are produced and secreted by nerve cells and are derivatives of fatty acids of the eicosanoids family. They include the familiar omega-3 fatty acids. The two best known endocannabinoids are called anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).
Because endocannabinoids are synthesized and secreted by neurons, they function as neurotransmitters. However, they do differ in two fundamental ways from other neurotransmitters. They work as reverse messengers and do not accumulate in the synaptic vesicles.
Phytocannabinoids are substances similar to endocannabinoids but they derive exclusively from plants, not the body itself. Because they are so are similar to our own cannabinoids they are able to stimulate the body's own cannabis system.
Most phytocannabinoids are isolated from the cannabis plant but other plants such as echinacea purpurea also provide non-psychoactive phytocannabinoids. CBD and THC are the two most well-known natural plant cannabinoids. THC alone has a psychoactive effect.
Just as humans, plants containing cannabinoid substances use them for their own health and healing properties. Cannabinoids function as antioxidants in both humans and plants.
Beneficial effects on health
Reading up will teach you that the endocannabinoid system is essential for good health. Endocannabinoids help us survive in today’s rapidly changing and unnatural environment.
Supplementation with cannabinoids from cannabis is an effective way to encourage this primal system within us and increases our vitality. Low doses of cannabinoids from hemp ensure that the body itself produces more endocannabinoids and increases the density of cannabinoid receptors. The more receptors you have, the more sensitive the body is to cannabinoids.
Low but frequent doses are recommended for general use, but individual situations may call for individual adjustments. A cannabis extract rich in endocannabinoids acts as a tonic for the body. The power of natural cannabis extract lies in the complexity and diversity of the phytocannabinoids and presence of cofactors. This synergism is not equaled by synthetic derivatives, which typically lack both.
Because so many people across a range of indications and situations benefit from cannabis use, it has been suggested (for the first time in 2004) that this could indicate an endemic and systemic endocannabinoid deficit. This may be caused by, or in turn underlie, the current health status. In addition, an important role would be played by lifestyle and environmental factors.
Considering the above information, it is logical that there should be consequences if the so deeply rooted endocannabinoid system is not sufficiently stimulated. Shortages, in fact, express themselves in many different ways.
As with many other of the body’s own chemicals and systems, supplementing low concentrations may lead to physiological improvements and enhanced vitality. Today cannabinoid shortage is a widely recognized phenomenon, rendering phytocannabinoids more or less essential nutrients.
Yet in contrast to omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies, most people are not informed about shortages that may arise in their internal cannabis system, and hence are not familiar with the possibility that cannabis may have added value for them.
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