What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system is a central regulatory system that affects many physiological and psychological processes including pain sensation, appetite, mood, memory, addiction, and sleep.

This system consists of 3 basic elements:

  • Cannabinoid Receptors (CB1 and CB2)
  • Cannabinoid molecules that interact with the CB receptors (endocannabinoids or external ones)
  • Enzymes that interact with the CB receptors, with their activation or deactivation

This system regulates homeostasis, and is found in the body of almost all vertebrate animals, with some differences.

Illustration of endocannabinoid system neurons and receptors

Cannabinoid Receptors

These are receptors found in the presynaptic membrane in neurons all over the body and in other cells, activated by cannabinoids.

There are two types of receptors:

CB1: found in the central nervous system, GI tract, muscles, lungs, blood vessels, bone marrow, liver, pancreas and reproductive system.

CB2: found in the immune system (mostly the spleen), skin, bone tissue and marrow, glial cells, liver, pancreas, gall bladder and lungs.

CB1 and CB2 receptors and their impact

Cannabinoid Molecules

Endocannabinoids are endogenous lipid-based retrograde neurotransmitters that travel through the synaptic cleft and attach themselves to the CB1 or CB2 receptors, found in the presynaptic cell.

After interacting with the endocannabinoid, the CB1 receptors release one portion of their structure, and that portion attaches to the calcium channels of the membrane, closing them. This causes that the calcium found in the synaptic cleft is not absorbed again by the presynaptic cell, lowering the amount of calcium in it, and stopping the movement of the vesicles that transport the neurotransmitter.

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