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August 21, 2020 6 min read

CBD and Homeostasis

More and more expansive research over the past few years has led to a better scientific understanding of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). In fact, some researchers dub ECS one of themost important physiological systems in humans and other animals.

Why is the endocannabinoid system (ECS) so important? My curious friend, its importance revolves around how well the ECS maintains homeostasis in the human body. 

What is homeostasis, and why is it so important? Let’s discuss!. 

Homeostasis?

Homeostasis refers to the ability to keep a balanced internal state that functions optimally regardless of external conditions. All living things, including people, animals and plants, rely on this internal balance to maintain sound health and wellness. 

The word “homeostasis” original source is from Greek terms meaning “similar”(homoios) and “standing still”(stasis), roughly meaning “staying the same.” 

You can consider homeostasis as the balance, stability or equilibrium within a cell, a group of cells, or the entire body. Homeostasis plays a considerable role in the body’s ability to function smoothly and influences our nervous, immune, digestive, respiratory, reproductive and urinary systems. 

Walter Cannon, a physiologist from the 1920's, first used the term after the idea of homeostasis was initially explained by physiologist Claude Bernard in the 1870's. Bernard maintained that complex living things must maintain “milieu interieur,” or a balance of their internal environment, to live a “free and independent” life in the external world. 

Why is Homeostasis Important? 

The body is a complex, yet intricately connected network of various systems. Each individual system controls its own internal functions but is alsointerdependent with other systems, whether at first analysis they seem related or not. 

The breakdown of homeostasis in one system of the body can disrupt homeostasis in other systems, which often lead to negative ramifications on our health. We should have a goal of homeostasis for all of our systems, so that the entire body functions harmoniously. 

The nervous system is connected through pathways around the body. This complex network consists of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (nerves outside the brain and spinal cord that connect to limbs and organs). Homeostasis of the nervous system is important for the controlling of many other voluntary and involuntary functions. 

Homeostasis is also important for maintaining the health of the endocrine system. The endocrine system contains glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones maintain homeostasis through their effect on muscle metabolism, inflammation, bone growth, blood pressure, energy production and more. 

Homeostasis allows for a stable internal environment throughout all the systems of the body. Homeostatic processes are constantly occurring throughout our body. A simple disruption or even interruption of this fragile harmony can lead to multiple different health problems from digestive system upset and headaches to more serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Sustaining homeostasis in our body increases the likelihood of maintaining overall good health.

Understanding the ECS and Homeostasis

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is known as a “master regulator” within the body. It is in control of regulating a variety of bodily processes. 

Research shows the the ECS can influence the following: 

  • Appetite
  • Digestion
  • Inflammation
  • Immune response
  • Pain
  • Mood
  • Memory
  • Motor control
  • Sleep
  • Stress
  • Bone health
  • Muscle development
  • Reproductive function
  • Cardiovascular function
  • Skin health 
  • Nerve function

Wow, that is one impressive list of processes! Endocannabinoid receptors are found very near everywhere in the human body, the ECS helps maintain the fragile nature of these bodily processes. When any are thrown out of balance, the ECS can guide the body back to equilibrium.

To better understand how the ECS helps reserve this balance, it is essential to gain knowledge how this system works. 

Endocannabinoids Basics

Within the ECS, there are three main components:  endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. 

Endocannabinoids

Our body produce Endocannabinoids and includes anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). In chemical makeup, endocannabinoids resemble cannabinoids like CBD and THC, which are created naturally by the body.

Anandamide (AEA)

Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that has a very similar structure to THC and is named after the Sanskrit wordananda, which means “bliss, joy or happiness.” Anandamide has been referred to as the “bliss molecule” for the role it plays in producing a state of euphoria.

Anandamide influences several bodily functions including higher thought processes, memory, motivation, pain, regulation of body temperature, appetite, and fertility. In addition it contains anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effects due to its ability to increase neurogenesis. 

2-Arachidonoylglycerol(2-AG)

2-AG is among a group of molecules derived from arachidonic acid, or two essential fatty acids (EFAs) known as EPA and DGLA. 2-AG is considered the most abundant endocannabinoid found in the body. 

2-AG has very similar properties to anandamide and is known to play an integral role in pain management, appetite regulation, and immune system function. It is also important in modulating anxiety, depression, and addictive behaviors. 2-AG has also shown to play a role in the regulation of the invasion and multiplication of certain types of cancer cells. 

These endocannabinoids are produced by the body as needed to maintain a state of homeostasis, assisting internal systems in function smoothly.. 

Homeostasis and Cannabinoid Receptors 

Endocannabinoid receptors that are found throughout the entire body and are known as CB1 and CB2 receptors. Their two most vital functions are: 

  1. They govern the effects of endocannabinoids AEA and 2-AG. 
  2.  Regulating the behavioral effects of cannabis. 

CB1 Receptors

A majority of our CB1 receptors are located in our brain and spinal cord. Within the brain, these receptors congregate mostly in the hippocampus, basal ganglia, cerebellum and limbic system. There is an exceptionally high population of CB1 receptors in the hippocampus and amygdala, which play a vital role in emotional regulation and memory. CB1 receptors are also found in the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, uterus, and ovaries.  

Such functions such as cognition, memory, motor movements, and pain perception can be impacted by CB1 receptors. They are also involved in the regulation of sleep, mood, and appetite. CB1 receptors are involved in dopaminergic, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), glutamatergic, serotonergic, noradrenalin, and acetylcholine neurotransmitter systems. 

CB2 Receptors

CB2 receptors are primarily found throughout the peripheral nervous system, with a high concentration found in the immune system, spleen, and gastrointestinal tract.  There are also very small concentrations of CB2 receptors found in the brain. 

CB2 receptors are heavily involved with immune functions such as inflammation and pain management. They do their work by soothing systems after an outside or internal stress occurs. 

CB2 receptors are also involved in reward and addiction. The receptors accomplish this by modulating dopamine activity in the ventral tegmental brain area. 

Endocannabinoids AEA and 2-AG can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, with various effects. 

Enzymes

The two enzymes found in the ECS are Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol acid lipase (MGL) are the two enzymes found in the endocannabinoid system. These enzymes are responsible for breaking down and disposing of endocannabinoids after they’ve finished their job. 

Homeostasis and the ECS

The ECS works to keep homeostasis through a delicate balancing act that takes place between endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. When imbalance is identified and the alarm sounded, the body releases endocannabinoids to target specific cannabinoid receptors. The chemical response then helps return balance to the system.

The body naturally creates the endocannabinoids that help maintain homeostasis, but sometimes there aren’t enough endocannabinoids created naturally within the body for the ECS to maintain this vital equilibrium. This is referred to as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency, which is believed to be involved with a number of health problems. 

Cannabinoids and ECS Function

As stated earlier, the body’s endocannabinoids are very similar to cannabinoids like CBD and THC. Researchers believe that supplementing with such cannabinoids can help add to the body’s natural endocannabinoids and ultimately help promote a state of homeostasis within the ECS. This could explain why thousands (millions????) of people have reported a multitude of benefits when adding cannabinoids like CBD and THC to their routines.

How exactly do these cannabinoids work within the ECS to contribute to a state of homeostasis? CBD and THC interact with cannabinoid receptors differently.   

THC and the ECS

THC has a strong binding attraction to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 is the main receptor that generates the psychoactive effects of marijuana.  This occurs because THC binds directly to CB1 receptors, it sends messages to the brain that result in the marijuana “high”. This binding occurence is also why THC can have a range of different effects on the body, from appetite to sleep and more. 

CBD and the ECS

CBD, on the other hand, does not bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors. Instead, the effects of CBD are caused by two specific functions. CBD activates TRPV1 receptors(vanilloid receptor 1 or capsaicin receptors), which has many positive effects on well-being. Furthermore, CBD inhibits FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase), which can promote higher levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide. 

There is little doubt about the importance of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in regards to the overall level of happiness and health of humans. There is much more research needed in regards to how cannabis impacts the ECS. There is an ever growing amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests a strong benefit of the use of CBD and other cannabinoids on the ECS but much more research is needed in this area.

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