The human body contains an Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which is a group of receptors located in the brain and throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems of our bodies. Cannabinoids manifest their effects by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, that responds to cannabinoid ‘agonists’, or chemical messengers. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for the psychological and physiological effects of cannabinoids, of which endocannabinoids originate inside the body, exogenous cannabinoids arise outside of the body. This article is an exerpt from a scientific paper detailing the design and function of the ECS.
An introduction to the endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a widespread neuromodulatory system that plays important roles in central nervous system (CNS) development, synaptic plasticity, and the response to endogenous and environmental insults. The ECS is comprised of cannabinoid receptors, endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), and the enzymes responsible for the synthesis and degradation of the endocannabinoids.
The most abundant cannabinoid receptor is the CB1 cannabinoid receptors, however CB2 cannabinoid receptors, transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPAR’s) are also engaged by some cannabinoids.
Exogenous cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), produce their biological effects through their interactions with cannabinoid receptors. 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) and arachidonoyl ethanolamide (anandamide) are the best-studied endogenous cannabinoids.
Despite similarities in chemical structure, 2-AG and anandamide are synthesized and degraded by distinct enzymatic pathways, which impart fundamentally different physiological and pathophysiological roles to these two endocannabinoids.
Because of the pervasive social use of cannabis and the involvement of endocannabinoids in a multitude of biological processes, much has been learned about the physiological and pathophysiological roles of the ECS.