Written By: Chad Parks
Just google ‘cannabis research’ and get ready to go down the rabbit-hole. It seems there are innumerable ways weed is being studied to treat everything from obesity to Alzheimer’s disease. At the time of this writing (April 2019), a PubMed search for scientific journal articles published in the last year containing the word "cannabis" revealed 1,901 results.
That’s an average of 5 articles being written on cannabis research a day!
What this research is focusing on is a class of compounds called cannabinoids, and specifically how they interact with a relatively newly discovered body system called the endocannabinoid system.
SO, WHAT EXACTLY ARE ENDOCANNABINOIDS? WHAT IS THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM?
Did you know your body makes its own cannabinoids? The human body makes chemicals called endocannabinoids (endo = made inside your body). Have you ever heard of a runner’s high? That’s your body making endocannabinoids to tell you “Hey buddy, you just ran 10 miles - here are some feel-good chemicals”.
Photo Courtesy via Unsplash.com & Clique Images
Endocannabinoids promote health and homeostasis to keep your body’s various functions in balance. Endocannabinoids achieve this healthy balance by interacting with what some scientists are calling the most widespread and important system in your body- the Endocannabinoid System! The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a vast network of cellular receptor sites
throughout the body - named CB1 and CB2 (cannabinoid receptor 1, cannabinoid receptor 2).
Endocannabinoids can readily attach throughout the body at CB1 and CB2 sites. Imagine these receptor sites as tiny switches on cells that turn on and off certain important body functions. The amount of CB1 and CB2 sites throughout the body is staggering and thought to exceed the number of receptor sites for all other neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine combined!
Infographic Courtesy via Research Gate & MedReleaf Corp
CB1 receptors are primarily located on the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, but they are also found elsewhere, in organs and tissues such as the spleen, white blood cells, endocrine gland and parts of the reproductive, gastrointestinal and urinary tracts.
CB2 receptors are mainly found on white blood cells and are thought to help regulate the immune system.
Ok, so your body makes endocannabinoids that help your body run smoothly - big deal.
What’s an even bigger deal, is that all those endocannabinoids that keep your body in check have similar chemical-cousins found in nature - and just take a wild guess where they’re found??
WEED! Yup, dank is a veritable pharmacopeia of beneficial chemicals called phytocannabinoids (plant cannabinoids).
Marijuana, hemp and other plants like Echinacea and Black Pepper produce a myriad variety of phytocannabinoids, but you are most likely familiar with two of the most common: THC and CBD. Additionally, there are 111 other known cannabinoids found in marijuana.
UNDERSTANDING HOW THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM HEALS THE BODY
Cannabinoids (endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids) act on the ECS in amazing ways. They can act pre and post-synapse (nerve endings), meaning they can have an impact on the sending or receiving end of neurons. Cannabinoids are also poly-pharmaceutical meaning that there can be many therapeutic benefits in just one compound, unlike conventional drugs that can only address one issue at a time.
The ECS helps cells by promoting anti-inflammation – a major part of many neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Cannabinoids have also been shown to be 20 times more effective than aspirin and twice as effective as steroids in reducing inflammation, making them promising alternatives to patients that can’t tolerate the side-effects from conventional drugs.
There are so many ways that cannabis can treat diseases – here are two worth noting:
THC has been shown promise in treating Alzheimer’s disease by inhibiting the protein that gets tangled into plaques in the brain. These plaques cause inflammation and strangle neurons to death - one of the disease’s key features. Scientists think that by stopping the inflammation and the plaques that cause it - further brain death due to the disease can be stopped.
Cannabinoids have also been shown to have antiproliferative and anti-angiogenic properties in cancer cells. What that means is that everything that a cancer cell needs to grow (blood supply) and proliferate is inhibited by cannabinoids. A study from 2011 showed that CBD caused programmed cell death in breast cancer cells, without harming healthy cells.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you that cannabinoids were a big deal – a recent observational study of almost 3000 elderly patients in Israel showed that using marijuana reduced dependence on painkillers by half. That’s huge, especially considering the widespread epidemic of opioid and painkiller dependence and abuse.
If you haven’t been paying attention to cannabis research, it’s high time (pun intended) that you do. With new uses and therapies for weed being discovered seemingly every day – it’s set to be the next big treatment breakthrough.
HOW CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT ENDOCANNABINOIDS?
For my non-nerdy friends you can check out NORML – they have a huge collection of up-to-date, plain-English research articles.
For my nerdy friends, you know where to look. 🧐
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chad Parks is a full-time nomad from Kansas City, Missouri. Chad is our new writer for Hoodie Goodies and will be writing blogs each month. When Chad isn’t busy writing, he is seeking out clothing-optional beaches and enjoying all the weirdness America has to offer.
CHECK OUT MORE CHAD PARK BY VISITING THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA AT: