Over the last two decades, research on the effects of cannabis on the human body led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a network of CB1 and CB2 cell receptors and the molecules that act on them. CB1 receptors are found mostly in tissues of the brain and the central nervous system (CNS). CB2 receptors are found in the immune system, gastrointestinal tract, retina, and peripheral nervous system.
CB1 is expressed in the tissues of both the central nervous system (CNS) and the periphery, with a predominant expression on presynaptic nerves. CB2, sometimes referred to as the “peripheral cannabinoid receptor”, is mainly expressed on immune cells but can also be found on other peripheral tissues such as the retina and in the CNS (Croxford and Yamamura 2005; Mackie 2006).
Endocannabinoids act on CB1 and CB2 receptors to regulate core body functions, including metabolism, appetite, sleep, mood, pain, immune function, and muscle movement. An irregularity of the ECS can result in pain, digestive issues, seizures, mental health concerns, and problems with mobility and balance.Endocannabinoids in the body are degraded by fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). Cannabidiol (CBD), another component of medical marijuana, inhibits FAAH, allowing more naturally-occurring endocannabinoids to remain active in the body.
Imbalances of the endocannabinoid system are associated with many diseases, explaining why medical marijuana has a beneficial effect on a variety of medical conditions.
Current research on the endocannabinoid system is seeking new treatments for autoimmune, inflammatory, and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as non-addictive ways to relieve pain.
The delta9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana resembles the endocannabinoid molecules, anandamide and 2-Ag, manufactured by the human body. THC binds with CB1 and CB2 receptors to replace or augment naturally-occurring endocannabinoid.
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