The endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS), named after the plant that led to its discovery, is perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.
Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.
Homeostasis is the concept that most biological systems are actively regulated to maintain conditions within a narrow range. Our body doesn’t want its temperature to be too hot or too cold, blood sugar levels too high or too low, and so on. Conditions need to be just right for our cells to maintain optimum performance, and exquisite mechanisms have evolved to draw them back to that zone if they move out.
The body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a vital molecular system for helping maintain homeostasis Because of its crucial role in homeostasis, the ECS is widespread throughout the animal kingdom. Its key pieces evolved a long time ago, and the ECS can be found in all vertebrate species.
The three key components of the ECS are:
Cannabinoid receptors sit on the surface of cells and “listen” to conditions outside the cell. They transmit information about changing conditions to the inside of the cell, kick-starting the appropriate cellular response
Endocannabinoids are molecules that, like the plant cannabinoid THC, bind to and activate cannabinoid receptors. However, unlike THC, endocannabinoids are produced naturally by cells in the human body (“endo” means “within,” as in within the body).
There are two major endocannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG. These endocannabinoids are made from fat-like molecules within cell membranes, and are synthesized on-demand. This means that they get made and used exactly when they’re needed, rather than packaged and stored for later use like many other biological molecules.
The third piece of the endocannabinoid triad includes the metabolic enzymes that quickly destroy endocannabinoids once they are used. The two big enzymes are FAAH, which breaks down anandamide, and MAGL, which breaks down 2-AG. These enzymes ensure that endocannabinoids get used when they’re needed, but not for longer than necessary. This distinguishes endocannabinoids from many other molecular signals in the body, such as hormones or classical neurotransmitters, which can persist for many seconds or minutes, or get packaged and stored for later use.
Memory & Learning
“The Scientist” is a documentary that traces the story of Dr Mechoulam from his early days......as a child of the Holocaust in Bulgaria, through his immigration to Israel, and his career as the chief investigator into the chemistry and biology of the world’s most misunderstood plant. Dr. Mechoulam ascertained that THC interacts with the largest receptor system in the human body, the endocannabinoid system (ECS). For further information please visit: http://mechoulamthescientist.com/
Originally published on May 7, 2012 by CCICannabinoids. A Master's Research Project submitted for Masters of Science, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. Developed in collaboration with Biomedical Communications, Department of Biology, University of Toronto at Mississauga, The Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids and with funding provided in part by the Quebec Pain Research Network.