The Endocannabinoids Your Body Produces & How They Help You
Just as your body reacts to cannabinoids introduced from the outside, for example, the well-known cannabinoids found within cannabis plants (like CBD and THC), your body evolved to produce its cannabinoids as well. These human produced endocannabinoids remain relatively unknown, after all, the endocannabinoid system was only discovered a few decades ago. Different molecules have been found in many areas of the body, all seemingly with a unique function.
At the most basic level, endocannabinoids are produced by the human body (and all other vertebrates), to interact with cannabinoid receptors found within the endocannabinoid system. This system contains primarily CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are concentrated in different areas. The CB1 receptor exists primarily within the brain and the nervous system. The CB2 receptor is concentrated within the immune system. These receptors are sprinkled less liberally throughout other areas of the body as well.
Despite its rather recent discovery, there is speculation that this system evolved over 600 million years ago. Scientists now understand that its primary focus is to create a perfect homeostasis within the body. The system releases and regulates different cannabinoids in reaction to whatever external or internal influences threaten to throw the body off balance. While many times this can be in response to a health threat, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for our mental health as well. It can be considered a type of subconscious emotional regulatory system.
Although many people are well versed in the medicinal applications of cannabis derived cannabinoids, most of us cannot name a single naturally produced one. With this in mind, let's review some of the most common and well-understood endocannabinoids currently known to be floating around the human body. This list is by no-means conclusive, but it will provide some insight into just how complicated the relationship is between the human body and our own endocannabinoids.
This cannabinoid is often called the ‘bliss molecule' as it promotes relaxation and feelings of happiness. It is most often compared to the phytocannabinoid THC because under the right circumstances and doses THC creates similar feelings. Anandamide is produced within human cell membranes and is a neurotransmitter which interacts with both CB1 and the CB2 receptors. This characteristic makes it rather unique because most well-known cannabinoids interact mostly with only one primary receptor.
Anandamide is understood to influence a variety of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and fear; in addition to being responsible for pain regulation. This could be why there are such similarities between the effects of THC and those of anandamide, as they both have such powerful effects on these often negative feelings and experiences. In some very preliminary research, anandamide has been found to inhibit the movement and progression of cancer cells throughout the human body.
Interestingly, there is more than one way to introduce more anandamide into your system, without also having to add any medications or harsh pharmaceuticals. This includes taking up meditation practices or increasing the amount of daily exercise. If neither of these lifestyle changes seems to work, there is also the potential to use cannabinoids as a safe, all natural alternative.
This molecule is often associated with women. However, many people don't realize it is produced and used by both males and females. Traditionally it has been understood to be generated during labor, orgasms, and sexual activity. It's also produced during mellower expressions, like during hugs and moments of bonding. This is why it is called the cuddle molecule because it is so strongly associated with feelings of closeness, empathy, trust, and generosity. Anandamide and oxytocin go hand-in-hand, as the former regulates the amount of the latter within our endocannabinoid system.
For those that experience low levels of oxytocin, they may develop eating disorders, depression, and perhaps not surprisingly experience a low libido. It is thought that oxytocin production also promotes self-healing, increased quality of life and countless related health benefits. While many still wrongly associate the cuddle hormone with women, it seems to also be a trigger for erections and other biological sexual processes in men.
Likely the most well known out of all the molecules discussed here, serotonin is extremely interesting because it is a neurotransmitter which is primarily produced and regulated by the gastrointestinal tract. This means that many of the happy feelings such as those of feeling safe, positive, and stress-free mostly come from within your stomach and intestines.
There is a very delicate balance between too much serotonin (which can be triggered by some antidepressants and antianxiety medications), and too little serotonin (which results in depression, anxiety, irritability, and lack of motivation). Some of the leading natural suggestions for leveling out serotonin levels are to focus on being happy, to focus on joyful past experiences and to eat whole, healthy, organic foods.
The final cannabinoid on our list is a neurotransmitter responsible for neuroplasticity, memory, and attention. It is also likely the least understood out of all the molecules on our list because depending on where it is found in the body, acetylcholine can have dramatically different effects. For example, it promotes muscle contractions in some areas of the body while preventing in others. It interacts mainly with the CB1 receptor, which is found throughout the brain and when this cannabinoid is not found in sufficient quantities, it can cause neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer's, and in milder cases reduced creativity.
It can easily be promoted naturally by doing little mental exercises every day. This can be as simple as learning a new word every day, to a sudoku, to concentrated meditation. It also may be elevated by using cannabis derived cannabinoids that interact with the same CB1 receptor.
Blesching, Uwe. The Cannabis Health Index. North Atlantic Books, 2015. Print.