Cannabinoids & the Human Body
Cannabinoids bind with a system of receptors in the human body that scientists have named the “Endocannabinoid System”. The function of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain equilibrium of many biological factors such as core temperature and the concentration of electrolytes inside and outside of cells. This is an important function known as “homeostasis”.
By binding to endocannabinoid receptors, cannabinoids are able to affect how cells behave with their environment and with other cells in order to bring the body closer to its internal homeostatic balances.
The human Endocannabinoid System is made up of a vast network of receptors, enzymes and endocannabinoids. The most important receptors found in the endocannabinoid system are the CB1 & CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are mostly found inside the central nervous system, including the brain and eyes; whereas CB2 receptors are mostly found outside the central nervous system, with increased concentrations in the immune and gastrointestinal systems. These receptors are responsible for regulating heart rate, blood pressure, brain and nervous system activity, mood and stress, sleep and wake cycles, digestion, inflammation, and immune response.
Types of Cannabinoids
Any compound that interacts with the receptors of the endocannabinoid system is called a cannabinoid. Cannabinoids may be classified as Endocannabinoids, Phytocannabinoids and Synthetic Cannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds produced within the human body. They are responsible for transmitting physiological messages throughout the body for processes such as appetite, emotional responses and pain. The most well-known endocannabinoid is anandamide, which is produced in high concentrations after intensive exercise, resulting in the euphoric “runner’s high” sensation.
Phytocannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds in plants. The most famous examples are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) found in the cannabis plant. Other phytocannabinoids are found in varying quantities not only in cannabis, but also in chocolate and brassica vegetables such as broccoli and kale.
Synthetic Cannabinoids are man-made compounds that are synthesized in laboratories for the purposes of clinical research and drug development. The chemical structures of naturally occurring cannabinoids are carefully mimicked and modified to investigate how cannabinoids bind to receptors and better understand their medical effects. An example is the prescription drug nabilone which has been used in Canada since 1981 to treat nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, and more recently for chronic pain management.
Activation of Cannabinoids
Within raw and dried cannabis plants, CBD and THC exist in their biologically inactive form. This means they cannot bind to endocannabinoid receptors without first being converted into their active forms. Activation of cannabinoids is achieved through exposure to heat, usually by smoking, vaporizing or cooking cannabis. Upon entering the bloodstream, these activated cannabinoids can interact with the endocannabinoid system to exert their therapeutic effects.