As we have explored in earlier posts, marijuana contains a host of potentially therapeutic substances that provide relief for a wide range of conditions. Many of these compounds are classified as cannabinoids. While the first cannabinoid to gain attention was THC, largely responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects, others, including CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN, THCA, and THCV, have also been shown to have positive health effects. Today, we take a look at why all of these cannabis components seem to have such immense therapeutic potential.
It’s just good judgment to be skeptical of any medicine, whether herbal or pharmaceutical, that is touted as a panacea. However, in the case of cannabis, there is substantial evidence that its constituents have a unique ability to promote health and healing in a wide range of ways because they mimic our bodies’ natural modes of healing and protection. Cannabis is able to do this by working in concert with our own endocannabinoid system.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The prefix “endo” (meaning inner) indicates that the system is contained within our bodies. The “cannabinoid” part comes from the discovery that our bodies produce substances that are chemically similar to and bind to the same receptors as compounds that were first found in the cannabis plant. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is comprised of receptors, endogenous ligands (endocannabinoids) that stimulate those receptors, and enzymes that synthesize and degrade the ligands.
The first evidence of the ECS surfaced in the early 1990s with the discovery of the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Researchers have learned that these receptors are present throughout the body and may well outnumber any those of other receptor system in the body. While CB1 receptors are located primarily in the nervous system, ovaries or testes, glands, and organs and CB2 receptors are most numerous in the immune system, many tissues contain both types, each serving different functions.
So far, research has shown that THC binds to the CB1 receptor, and CBN binds to the CB2. CBD, however, which has literally been a lifesaver for many young epilepsy patients, does not seem to properly fit either of these receptors, and research into its mechanisms is ongoing. While the precise ways in which these substances affect our bodies remain largely unknown, many researchers suspect that at least a third receptor remains undiscovered.
What does the endocannabinoid system do?
Our endocannabinoid system (and those of animals) works to maintain homeostasis, or internal stability, in the face of conditions or stimuli that would tend to disrupt normal function. While this may seem simple on the surface, this function requires the system to regulate a wide range of internal conditions. For example, the ECS regulates the health of normal cells as well as inducing cell death in malignancies. At the same time, cannabinoids can also suppress excessive nerve-cell firing as well as immune cell activity in order to limit inflammation at the site of an injury, minimizing the pain and damage that results.
The complex workings of the ECS are vital to health and growth. These findings support what many long-time cannabis consumers have known for decades: Cannabis is fundamentally different from drugs of abuse. It’s not simply non-addictive; cannabis has the potential to promote good health. Dr. Dustin Sulak, a leader in cannabis medicine, goes so far as to state his belief that “small, regular doses of cannabis might act as a tonic to our most central physiologic healing system.”
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