The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) regulates bodily systems to maintain balance, known as homoeostasis, the state necessary for healthy bodily function. For example, blood sugar levels, internal temperature, pH levels of blood, regulation of water/minerals in the body and removal of metabolic waste are all governed by homoeostatic processes. The ECS is activated by cannabinoids; those naturally produced by the body are known as endocannabinoids (endo = within) and cannabinoids found in cannabis are known as phytocannabinoids (phyto = plant).
Bodies constantly make endocannabinoids to interact with the ECS, ensuring homoeostasis continues. If not enough endocannabinoids are created, it is thought Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency may occur. It is also thought this can be treated by introducing phytocannabinoids. All vertebrates (creatures with a backbone) and invertebrates (creatures without a backbone) have an ECS. This explains why cannabis has such success when used on pets and has the potential to treat a virtually unlimited number of species.
The reason cannabis can treat so many different conditions is that the
Endocannabinoid System is spread throughout the body and responsible
for the correct functioning of so many different parts and aspects of it.
The ECS is made up of neurons, endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. Nerve cells called neurons exist throughout the brain and body, linked together by neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters (molecules called agonists), move from one neuron to another (synapse). The agonists plug into neural receptors, causing a chain reaction. In the case of the ECS, two of the receptors are called CB1 (cannabinoid receptor 1) and CB2 (cannabinoid receptor 2).
Most agonists only travel in one direction. Cannabinoids are unusual in that they can travel both ways between neurons. This is known as a negative feedback loop. It is what makes the ECS such an essential system for most lifeforms. It tells the body when to begin a process (for example, sweating to cool down) but also when to stop it (otherwise we’d all be sweating constantly).
CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain, with some in the liver, lungs and kidneys. CB2 receptors are found throughout the body. There are more cannabinoid receptors in the brain than any other type of neural receptor and a common analogy is that the agonists are keys and the receptors are locks. The key and lock analogy is based upon the CB1 and CB2 receptors only being activated by cannabinoids, not any other type of agonist molecule. The cannabinoid ‘keys’ are the only ones that will fit the receptor ‘locks’.