Marijuana is one of the oldest known drugs and the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than eleven million people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six used marijuana in the year 2014. Despite its widespread use and legalization in a growing number of states, marijuana remains a controversial substance.
Marijuana was recently thrust at the center of one of the most significant developments in modern medical history. While researching the effects of cannabis, scientists discovered an important biochemical signaling system in the body. They named it the endocannabinoid system, after the plant that inspired its discovery.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for maintaining balance in various physiological functions linked to the human body’s immune responses, reproduction, metabolism, blood pressure, energy, and more. This balanced state is known as homeostasis.
The ECS also influences many physiological sensations, like pain, hunger, and stress. Last but not the least, studies have found a connection between a weakened ECS and several common illnesses, including chronic pain and inflammatory conditions.
Undeniably, the ECS has an important role to play in a person’s overall health and well-being, but the medical community is still in the process of fully understanding what exactly this role is. What is interesting to note, though, is how the ECS makes it possible for marijuana to have its therapeutic effects on the body. In other words, users will not experience the common benefits of marijuana if not for the existence of the ECS.
Because of its potential to improve health and disease management, it is important to understand the relationship between marijuana and the ECS.
How Marijuana Interacts with the ECS
To help fulfill its role of maintaining homeostasis, the ECS relies on cannabinoid receptors found on the surface of cells. When conditions change outside the cell, these cannabinoid receptors transmit information necessary for initiating the appropriate cellular response.
The body has two major cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. The most abundant of holidays type of receptor in the brain, CB1, is responsible for interacting with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana contains over one hundred biologically active compounds known as cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol (CBD) are just two of the most well-known cannabinoids.
THC is responsible for giving the high that marijuana is famous for. It is THC is similar to the body’s naturally occurring endocannabinoids in that they both bind and activate cannabinoid receptors.
Detectable in a user’s blood, urine, hair, oral fluids, and sweat, THC is the compound that marijuana testing procedures look for. The presence of THC in the body determines whether one will pass a drug test.
What Happens When Marijuana Triggers the ECS
One of the most notable functions of endocannabinoids is how it regulates the body’s inflammatory signals. Studies have found that endocannabinoids work as anti-inflammatory agents to help limit potentially harmful immune responses.
Inflammation is the immune system’s natural way of protecting the body from infection or injury, but this physiological response can become harmful when it persists longer than is necessary. In fact, chronic inflammation has been linked to just about every health condition, including cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
When a person ingests cannabinoids through marijuana, signals are sent to the ECS so that it produces more endocannabinoids. Triggering the ECS has many potential benefits for the body. It naturally regulates inflammation, repairs cells, and produces many other therapeutic benefits.
Words to the Wise
The discovery of the ECS has certainly transformed the way the medical world views health and disease management. However, it is still important to remember that marijuana-based interventions or any other therapy used to stimulate the ECS do not work like magic bullets. Like everything linked to biology, the relationship between the body and any external intervention is complicated and requires careful study. In the world where discoveries and inventions are multiplying every day, it is still important to do research on our own and learn from different kinds of people.
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