Many scientists consider the endocannabinoid system one of the most important systems in the body because its main function is to maintain balance and homeostasis.
What is the Human Endocannabinoid System?
In short, the endocannabinoid system is our body’s system of endocannabinoid receptors and the endocannabinoids that interact with them. Each cell in the human body has many receptors, all of which are activated by special compounds specific to them – glutamate bind to glutamate receptors; serotonin to serotonin receptors; dopamine to dopamine receptors, endocannabinoids to cannabinoid receptors, etc.
The endocannabinoid system is made up of the CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are activated by the two main endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2-AG. Anandamide binds to the CB1 receptors, while 2-AG bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
An easy way to understand how the endocannabinoid system works is to think of it as a lock and key mechanism. The cannabinoid receptors are the locks, and the endocannabinoids are the keys. When the endocannabinoids bind to the cannabinoid receptors, they are able to produce physiological responses necessary for keeping cells alive and healthy.
Where are the cannabinoid receptors located?
The study of the endocannabinoid system is still fairly new and we anticipate researchers finding even more cannabinoid receptors in the body. The cannabinoid receptors we currently know the most about are the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
Cannabinoid receptors are found all over the body. They are everywhere – the brain, the spinal cord, the immune system, the internal organs, the peripheral nervous system, and even on the skin! In fact, the endocannabinoid system is the most widespread receptor system in the human body.
However, the CB1 receptors are predominantly found in the central nervous system – your brain and spinal cord; the CB2 receptors are predominantly found in the immune system, specifically the white blood cells. Stimulating the CB1 receptors produces a myriad of effects. It regulates physiological processes including sleep, memory, emotional responses, mood, appetite and temperature, among others. It can even regulate the sensation of pain.
Stimulating the CB2 receptors, on the other hand, produces widespread anti-inflammatory effects since they are mostly located in the immune cells.