What Are Endocannabinoids?
Endocannabinoids serve as a natural check on the nervous system. Learn how they help the body maintain homeostasis.Endocannabinoids are chemicals produced inside of your body that attach to the same receptors as some phytocannabinoids. The most well-known endocannabinoid receptors are the Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CB1) and the Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2). Endocannabinoid chemicals help maintain balance and harmony in a healthy body.
Endocannabinoids were identified after discovering the mechanism of action of THC on CB1 and CB2 receptors. Thus, cannabis exerts it effects, in part, by mimicking our endocannabinoid system.
The 2 most extensively studied endocannabinoids, anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine) and 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol), and the enzymes responsible for endocannabinoid metabolism, make up the endocannabinoid system.
Anandamide and 2-AG, as well as other phytocannabinoids, have more molecular targets than just CB1 and CB2, such as Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) receptors and G-Protein receptor 55 (GPR55).
One key feature of endocannabinoids is their precursors, present in lipid membranes, can be synthesized in one or two rapid enzymatic steps, and released into the extracellular space.
Thus, unlike exogenous cannabinoids, endocannabinoids can have an immediate effect. Initially, endocannabinoid receptors were thought to be present only in the nervous system. We now know that these receptors are found throughout the body regulating major system processes.
Research targeting the endocannabinoid system has uncovered the extreme complexity of this widespread and versatile system. It is predicted that future therapeutic discoveries will take advantage of these novel pathways.
Phytocannabinoids: What Are They?
Phyto-, meaning plant, cannabinoids are chemicals found in and extracted from the cannabis plant. The cannabis plant contains over 100 known phytocannabinoids. The highest percentage of phytocannabinoids are found in the unseeded flower buds of female plants.22
THC and CBD are the most widely studied phytocannabinoids.
Hemp and cannabis are both varietals of the Cannabis sativa L. genus. Hemp was traditionally grown for fiber and seeds, whereas cannabis was grown for phytocannabinoids.
With the new Agricultural Act (2018; often referred to as the “Farm Bill”), hemp plants may be grown with larger flowers to increase their phytocannabinoid content, but products derived from hemp still must contain less than 0.3% THC on a dry-weight basis.8
It is unclear whether this means 0.3% THC in the dry plant or finished product. Cannabis sativa L. plants are soil remediators that absorb toxic chemicals from the soil. When phytocannabinoids are extracted from these plants, toxic chemicals from the soil can also be in the extraction.
Thus, rigorous growing, harvesting, extraction, manufacturing, and testing practices must be performed to ensure safe and consistent product.
New scientific research is discovering that phytocannabinoids interact with many receptors beyond CB1 & CB2. Moreover, research from FDA-approved cannabinoids has shown an array of known side effects as well as drug-drug interactions.6
There isn’t a scientific definition of non–FDA approved “medical marijuana,” but it is generally considered to be a product containing phytocannabinoids from the cannabis plant intended to relieve symptoms of an ailment.
Numerous state programs allow patients to be dispensed medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation (not prescription). Each state has different regulations to oversee the production of phytocannabinoid products for medical marijuana. While most try to have a safe and consistent product, caution is warranted.
Synthetic cannabinoids are chemicals made in a laboratory to mimic phytocannabinoids, which are chemicals found naturally in the cannabis plant In my humble opinion: Only organic cannabis should be used! Natural / organic is always the healthier approach so why even bother with lab created cannabinoids? Just don't!