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Human Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is a biological system which plays many important roles in the human body. It is also responsible for the physical and psychological effects of cannabis. Scientists first discovered the system while trying to understand the effects of cannabis and named it the endocannabinoid system for this reason. Endo stands for endogenous, which means originating within the body. Cannabinoid refers to the group of compounds that activate this system.
What Are Cannabinoid Receptors?
The endocannabinoid system has two receptors: CB1 and CB2. Each receptor responds to different cannabinoids, but some cannabinoids can interact with both. The distribution of CB1 and CB2 receptors within the body and brain explains why cannabinoids have certain effects. CB1 receptors are found throughout the body but are mostly present in the brain and spinal cord. They are concentrated in brain regions associated with the behaviours they influence. For example, there are CB1 receptors in the hypothalamus, which is involved with appetite regulation, and the amygdala, which plays a role in memory and emotional processing. CB1 receptors are also found in nerve endings where they act to reduce sensations of pain.CB2 receptors end to be found in the peripheral nervous system. They are especially concentrated in immune cells. When CB2 receptors are activated, they work to reduce inflammation. Inflammation is an immune response which is believed to play a role in many diseases and conditions.
What Are Endocannabinoids?
Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced naturally within the human body. 2-AG and anandamide are the two major endocannabinoids that scientists know of. Anandamide was the first endocannabinoid to be identified by scientists. Discovered in 1992, its name comes from the Sanskrit word meaning bliss, referring to its unique effects on the mind and body. In 1995, scientists discovered a second endocannabinoid and named it 2-AG (2-arachidonoyl glycerol).2-AG is found at higher concentrations in the brain, while anandamide is found at higher concentrations in other areas of the body. Both are capable of binding to CB1 and CB2 receptors but differ in their affinities for these receptors (i.e. how likely they are to bind to and activate each receptor). Endocannabinoids are “short-order” neurotransmitters, meaning they are synthesized on demand. In other words, endocannabinoids are only produced when the body signals that they are needed, and their presence is transient. After being released, endocannabinoids are quickly broken down by enzymes, which include FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) and MAGL (monoacylglycerol lipase).
Functions of The Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is involved with regulating many basic functions of the human body including: