In the last decades, many secrets about medicinal and psychoactive effects of cannabis have been discovered. In the end it all comes down to the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have many positive medicinal effects when interacting with the endocannabinoid system. It is the key component of our body, responsible for a wide range of diverse processes. Cannabinoid receptors are a part of our endocannabinoid system.
Two receptors that are a part of our endocannabinoid system, bind to cannabinoids. These are CB1 and CB2 receptors. They have a very important role in receiving and transmitting signals from internal and external environment. In this article we will discuss why they are so important for us and their role in our body.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM – A Short Overview
Before we dive into both receptors, we first need to understand our endocannabinoid system. It was discovered in the 90s when researching the effects of cannabis on our body. That is how it got its name as well (endo – internal). Taxonomic research found that the endocannabinoid system is extremely old and developed more than 500 million years ago. Furthermore, it is present in all vertebrates – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and others. They all produce endocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoid system is a communication system present in our body. It is composed of a collection of specialized receptors, compounds called endocannabinoids and enzymes that decompose them. This system affects many other processes, including energy production, organ functions, metabolism, and many others. By these interactions, the endocannabinoid system has a key role in various physiological activities, including:
All the above functions help our body maintain homeostasis or stable internal environment. This is also one of the most important functions of this system. Scientists discovered that cannabinoids found in cannabis (phytocannabinoids) work similarly to our “internal” cannabinoids (endocannabinoids). In this way they offer an exceptional support in maintaining balance in our body. You can read more about the endocannabinoid system in an article here.
CANNABINOID RECEPTORS (CB): How Cannabinoids Affect the Endocannabinoid System
Although, discovered not too long ago, cannabinoid receptors play a key role in the human body. When they are activated by cannabinoids, they can affect the body’s self-regulation. The endocannabinoid system also produces its own endocannabinoids that have an important role in maintaining balance in our body. When a person ingests cannabinoids or other compounds that bind to endocannabinoid system receptors, they technically replace the natural occurring process.
One of the best-known endocannabinoids is anandamide (AEA). It binds to the CB1 receptors, especially the ones in our brain and nervous system. On the other side, CB2 receptors bind stronger with the endocannabinoid called 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which synthesize when required. This means that the body produces them per request, and they are not stored for later use.
Cannabinoid receptors serve as a lock and cannabinoids are the key. For example, when a person uses cannabis, the receptors activates when in contact with cannabinoids. Along CB1 and CB2 receptors, there is a third receptor known as GPR55, which also binds with cannabinoids. However, until now most research was conducted for the first two receptor. Now we can discuss both of them in detail.
CB1 receptors are usually found in the nerve cells of the spinal cord and in the brain. In this way cannabinoids can affect pain, mood, and memory. Moreover, they were also found in organs and tissues such as endocrine glands, white blood cells, spleen, in parts of our reproductive, urinary system, and digestive system.
There is an especially strong bond between CB1 receptors in our brain, connective tissue, central nervous system, glands, and connecting organs, with cannabinoid THC. This is the reason why higher THC cannabis causes psychoactive effects.
When a person ingests cannabis the plants THC binds to CB1 receptors, which transmit the signal to our body. In this way THC can cause many positive effects to people with variety of conditions, including pain, depression, nausea, and others.
CB2 receptors are primarily found in the immune system cells, where they are expressed in T-cells, as well as in other connected structures. Furthermore, these receptors are highly concentrated in our digestive system and spleen. They are involved in appetite regulation, pain management, and immune system function such as inflammation. When CB2 receptors are stimulated, they trigger an inflammatory fighting response. Consequently, it can lead to pain decrease and minimizes tissue damage. These anti-inflammatory effects are useful in treating many inflammatory related conditions.
Because the digestive tract has many CB2 receptors, they modulate the digestive response. Consequently, patients with bowel inflammation or Crohn’s disease can feel a strong relief when using cannabis as medicine. Additionally, activation of CB2 receptors can help individuals with various problems, from arthritis to atherosclerosis, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s. These were already the findings in a 2009 study.
However, the effects of CB2 receptors are not limited to anti-inflammation. A 2014 study found they are involved in dopamine activity modulation in the ventrally tegmental brain area. This is a part responsible for the reward system and addiction. The study found, that by activating CB2 receptor, cocaine dependent test mice, self-dosed lower amount of cocaine. These findings support the theory, that CB2 receptor can serve as an effective therapy for treating addictions.
More research is required to uncover the full therapeutic potential of CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, current evidence points to a great potential.
What About Cannabinoid CBD?
Contrary to THC, CBD does not bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors. While some cannabinoids bind directly to receptors, interaction between receptors and CBD is indirect. CBD activates TRPV1 receptors. This connection creates diverse positive effects in our body and includes better wellbeing and encourages a higher level of anandamide production.
LET’S UNLOCK OUR FUTURE
Cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) are the primary receptors of our body, that have the ability of unlocking various positive medicinal effects connected to cannabis. The receptors behavior led many researchers to call the receptors “locks” and cannabinoids “keys”. There is an increasing amount of cannabis and endocannabinoid system research in progress, and we hope it can lead us to an advanced understanding of how this amazing plant works in our body.
The endocannabinoid system is complex; however, its effects are beautifully simple. It works hand in hand with our natural endocannabinoids and cannabinoids found in cannabis. This helps it maintain homeostasis of our body and strive to optimal health.