Cannabinoids are a class of active chemical compounds that interact with cannabinoid receptors throughout our body to help encourage homeostasis and balance. These cannabinoid receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for regulating many physiological processes, including pain management, immune response, sleep, appetite, and mood. Through interactions with cannabinoid receptors – particularly CB1 and CB2 – cannabinoids help the endocannabinoid system keep an array of processes in balance for healthy living.
An adequate level of cannabinoids is needed for the endocannabinoid system to function properly. The theory of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency suggests that when there is a lack of cannabinoids, diseases and symptoms can develop.
Cannabinoids can come from three places: produced naturally by the body, formed by plants, and created artificially in a lab.
Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring cannabinoids that are synthesized on demand by the human body. An activated postsynaptic neuron stimulates their release, and then they travel across a small gap called a synapse to attach to cannabinoid receptors located on a nearby presynaptic neuron.
The two major endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Anandamide binds directly to CB1 receptors and has a smaller affinity as a partial agonist to the CB2 receptors. 2-AG binds as an agonist to both CB1 and CB2 receptors with similar affinity.
Phytocannabinoids are found in plants, including hemp. When phytocannabinoids are administered through methods like oral ingestion, sublingual absorption, or vaporization, they are absorbed by the body, where they are able to interact with the cannabinoid receptors.
While there are known to be over 100 phytocannabinoids, the major ones include cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD has shown to have little affinity for both CB1 and CB2 receptors, but acts as an indirect antagonist of cannabinoid agonists. THC mimics the actions of anandamide and 2-AG, while binding to CB1 receptors.
If the body is unable to naturally synthesize enough endocannabinoids, supplementing with phytocannabinoids may help prevent the health problems related to clinical endocannabinoid deficiency. ECHO helps guide those seeking the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids by providing education about cannabinoids, connecting them with cannabinoid-friendly doctors that can help, and in some cases contributing CBD products.
Cannabinoids can also be created synthetically in a laboratory. These man-made cannabinoids mimic the effects of the naturally occurring cannabinoids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic cannabinoids are classified as “new psychoactive substances” (NPS). For the most part, synthetic cannabinoid products are illegal.
You can learn more about cannabinoids by visiting our Education page. We also recommend these related articles: