Cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) are derived from the stalks and stems of cannabis plants like hemp. Once absorbed, these cannabinoids interact with our body’s natural systems to promote balance. The reason they’re able to elicit balancing properties is because they share a similar chemical makeup to endocannabinoids, which are synthesized on demand by the body.
Endocannabinoids are one of the several integrated mechanisms that make up the body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system, found in all mammals, is responsible for communicating how best to regulate various biological processes to keep them in balance. Some of the functions the endocannabinoid system is responsible for managing are memory, cognition, pain management, mood, immune response, sleep, and appetite.
Endocannabinoids, which are endogenous lipids, activate the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, to elicit chemical responses to ensure that our processes remain in homeostasis. The body naturally synthesizes and breaks down these endocannabinoids on demand as needed.
Phytocannabinoids, the term used for cannabinoids derived from plants, mimic many of the biological actions of endocannabinoids. Like endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors to stimulate chemical responses. Some researchers believe that supplementing with cannabinoids like CBD is beneficial in cases where a person may not produce enough endocannabinoids for the endocannabinoid system to function properly.
Researchers have so far identified two main endocannabinoids – 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and anandamide (AEA).
2-arachidonoylglycerol has been found to be a full agonist of both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. It is the primary binding molecule for the CB2 receptor, which has been found to play a significant role in immune system function. 2-AG is therefore thought to play an important role in the effectiveness of the immune system and the presence of inflammation-related pain.
Anandamide is a partial agonist of both CB1 and CB2 receptors, but has shown to have a higher affinity for CB1. AEA is synthesized in areas of the brain that are important in memory, motivation, movement control, and higher thought process. It has also been found to play a significant role in fertility, pain, anxiety, and appetite.
Cannabis plants like hemp contain at least 100 different phytocannabinoids, which also stimulate or interact with cannabinoid receptors. Phytocannabinoids are comparable to 2-AG and AEA in that they directly or indirectly interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors to stimulate responses that encourage homeostasis. The two most prominent phytocannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC, the well known psychoactive cannabinoid, mimics the actions of the endocannabinoids 2-AG and AEA. Like AEA, THC is a partial agonist of both CB1 and CB2 receptors, but has higher affinity for CB1.
CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid whose therapeutic properties have become better understood over the years, has a much weaker affinity for both cannabinoid receptors, but has demonstrated that it acts as an indirect antagonist of cannabinoid agonists. It interacts indirectly with the CB1 receptors to weaken their ability to bind with THC.
Supplementing with phytocannabinoids may therefore be beneficial in addressing the conditions caused by clinical endocannabinoid deficiency, when not enough endocannabinoids are produced by the body.
You can learn more about the cannabinoids like CBD and how they interact with the endocannabinoid system and its receptors by visiting our education page.
You may also be interested in these related articles:
- Common Misconceptions About Cannabinoids
- Do Cannabinoids Have Anti-Inflammatory Effects?
- Are Cannabinoids Safe for Kids?