Disclaimer: My Rationale for Understanding the Science. Not everyone loves learning the scientific specifics, but lucky for you I do. And what I like to do with this information is gather it up, trim the fat, translate the jargon, and present it to you. Everything I explain has a point. I want you to experience an Informed High. I want to help create informed consumers making informed decisions.
Cannabinoids and Cannabinoid Receptors
In the following post, I will explain the science behind Cannabinoids and Cannabinoid Receptors. We will discuss how consumption of Cannabis can affect our internal systems. Firstly, we will explore Cannabinoids and Cannabis plant. Secondly, Cannabinoid receptors, including types and functions, will be discussed. Lastly, I will attempt to reward you for getting through the science part by explaining the critical lessons and real-world implications.
One Sentence Summary
The Cannabis plant contains chemicals that affect a naturally occurring system in our body involved in the regulation of many vital functions, which is why music sounds better while high but also why we need to consume more to create the same effects over time, and why we can be affected by ceasing regular cannabis consumption.
Cannabinoids are derived from three sources:
- Phytocannabinoids – the compound produced by Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica plants
- Endocannabinoids – neurotransmitters produced in the brain or other tissues that act on Cannabinoid receptors
- Synthetic Cannabinoids – created in a laboratory, structurally similar to Cannabinoids, these compounds act on similar biological mechanisms
Endocannabinoids and Phytocannabinoids
Endocannabinoids and Phytocannabinoids exert similar effects in animal research, including:
- Reduction of Pain
- Body Temperature
- Spontaneous Activity
- Motor Control
The Cannabis Plant
Cannabinoids can be found in all Cannabis preparations, but the specific composition of each strain varies. There is also possible variation within strains, based on growing environments and associated factors. The Cannabis plant contains at least 750 known chemicals, with roughly 104 of those considered to be Cannabinoids.
The main psychoactive ingredient is Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as “THC”. The non-psychoactive Cannabinol, known as “CBD”, is suggested to play a role in many of the beneficial effects of Cannabis consumption. For now, we are going to turn to the receptors that these compounds are associated with the correctly named – Cannabinoid receptors.
Cannabinoids bind to what are called Cannabinoid Receptors, found throughout the Human nervous system generally, and the brain more specifically. Cannabinoid Receptors in the brain are found in high numbers in areas related to pain- and reward-related neurocircuits.
Endocannabinoids are fundamentally involved in regulation of pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, body movement, awareness of time, appetite, pain, and sensory processing. They are also crucial for brain development. Cannabinoid receptors throughout the body are part of our endocannabinoid system. This system involves cannabinoids, used to send signals from one cell to another.
The endocannabinoid system is the master tone-setter in our bodies, sending signals meant to ‘even-out’ or regulate specific systems. These systems involve the following factors:
- Appetite Regulation
- Learning (and Forgetting)
- Perception of Pain
- Immune Response
- and Other Vital Processes
CB1 and CB2 Receptors
The two primary Cannabinoid receptors are labeled Cannabinoid-1 (CB1) and Cannabinoid-2 (CB2). The addiction potential of Cannabinoids is thought to be related to powerful within-system (signal transduction mechanisms) and between-system neuroadaptations (neurocircuitry changes).
The action of Cannabinoids on CB1 receptors is thought to serve as a modulating, or ‘fine-tuning’ of signaling in most brain regions, enabling the brain to adapt to signals generated from multiple sources.
CB2 receptors are acted upon mainly by the compound Cannabinol. They are involved in immune system functioning and found throughout the periphery of the body. The fact that these receptors are not involved with the psychoactive effects of Cannabis is why there is a focus on the compound CBD for medicinal purposes. They are considered to be promising targets for therapeutic purposes. CB1 receptors are also involved with vagus nerve functions, including to promote appetite and eating.
The gut is another area of the body where CB1 and CB2 receptors are located and involved with central nervous system control of metabolic and homeostatic functions.
The Take-Home Message
While our body creates Endocannabinoids based on genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors, the system is effected by adding in external Cannabinoids. When we consume Cannabis, we essentially inject Phytocannabinoids into our Endocannabinoid System which leads to the behavioral and biological effects. If you think of these receptors as mechanically trying to balance out the resulting chemical environment, you could imagine how consuming Cannabinoids will effect our internal production and regulation. Receptors can increase or decrease in number, or they can become more or less effective (at doing their job) leading to many well-known effects of drug consumption (tolerance, withdrawal, addiction, etc.).
The Bigger Picture
Without getting into too many details, I want to explain the broad idea underlying why consuming external compounds that affect internal physiological functioning. Our Cannabinoid receptors may respond to this increase in Phytocannabinoids by producing fewer endocannabinoids. If we then cease consuming Cannabis and the associated Phytocannabinoids, our natural production of Endocannabinoids would be insufficient until our body can adapt to the new situation (theoretically reversing the changes). This also explains why repeated use of Cannabis may produce fewer and weaker effects, due to Cannabinoid Receptor changes over time that increase the ability to process the increased Cannabinoid presence.