Patient Education

Hemp & The Endocannabinoid System

The Endocannabinoid System, or ECS, is an integral part of our physiology as humans. It helps us maintain homeostasis in our bodies by communicating with other endogenous biological systems. The ECS exerts significant beneficial effects on a wide variety of physical conditions because of the unique way that it transmits signals.

These beneficial effects can be placed in two categories: the first is to help the body heal itself in the face of injury and disease, and the second is to modulate pleasure, energy and well-being. If this important system remains healthy, then it can help other systems stay healthy, fight disease, and communicate smoothly as needed.

The Endocannabinoid System was discovered in the mid-1990s by Israeli researcher Dr. Raphael Mechoulam.  Dr. Mechoulam’s world-changing research discovered two main receptors, CB1 and CB2.  Since that pivotal moment, there has been a substantial amount of research done to understand just how the ECS works. We’ve discovered that it’s quite complex and comprised of three main parts:

  • Two Main Endocannabinoid Receptors, CB1 and CB2: Also called Cannabinoid Receptor type 1 and Cannabinoid Receptor type 2, these receptors are found throughout the body.
    • CB1 receptors are located primarily in the brain and CNS and affect pain relief, anxiety relief, mood stabilization, well-being and pleasure.
    • CB2 receptors are located throughout the body, especially on immune cells, and affect inflammation (including the perception of pain) and whole body health.
  • Two Main Endocannabinoids, Anandamide and 2-AG: These internally produced cannabinoids interact with their receptors, CB1 and CB2. Generally speaking:
    • Anandamide works at the CB1 receptor and elevates mood; it is partially responsible for the euphoric, post-workout ‘runner’s high’.
    • 2-AG works at the CB2 receptor. Paradoxically, it is found in higher concentrations in the brain.
  • Five Enzymes: These enzymes are responsible for producing and recycling the endocannabinoids that are so integral to ECS function.
    • FAAH (breaks down Anandamide)
    • MAGL (breaks down 2-AG)
    • DAGL-a ( for synthesis of 2-AG)
    • DAGL-b (for synthesis of 2-AG)
    • NAPE selective phospholipase-D (for synthesis of Anandamide)

The ECS is unique in that it’s receptors are located on presynaptic (sending) neurons and it’s endocannabinoids are transmitted from postsynaptic (receiving) neurons. In other words, signals are sent backwards to synchronize the sending of other signals. This process is called retrograde signalling and is at the heart of why the ECS is so uniquely important.

When the CB1 system in the brain is activated, this retrograde signalling exerts widespread ‘downstream’ effects on the release of other neurotransmitters including, but not limited to, norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, orexin, histamine, GABA, and endorphin.

Where Does Hemp Come Into the picture?

The hemp plant contains Cannabidiol, or CBD, a phytocannabinoid (plant cannabinoid) that interacts with our body’s own Endocannabinoid System! This versatile molecule helps Anandamide and 2-AG communicate with their receptors and regulates the ECS as a whole. In simple terms, hemp aids the body in healing itself.

In addition to CBD, hemp also contains:

  • Trace amounts of more than one hundred other cannabinoids (THC, CBC, etc)
  • Essential fatty acids like omega 3, 6, and 9
  • Flavonoids, including cannaflavins, that act as powerful antioxidants
  • Terpenes (aromatic oils similar to essential oils) that themselves are powerfully healing and anti-inflammatory. Together, these phytochemicals provide a synergy that Dr. Mechoulam termed the entourage effect.

Hemp extract and CBD products that are sold in the state of North Carolina are extracted from the Cannabis Sativa L plant. The variety grown in North Carolina is commonly called Industrial Hemp. By definition, Industrial Hemp must have 0.3% or less THC. This low level of THC ensures that someone using a CBD product will not become impaired or ‘high’.

How Does CBD Work?

When CBD was initially discovered it was thought to be inactive because it lacked the psychoactive properties observed with THC. It turns out that CBD is very active, but affects CB1 and CB2 receptors indirectly – giving health without the high.

For example, CBD activates the body’s Endocannabinoid System by blocking the FAAH enzyme responsible for breaking down anandamide. With more anandamide present at receptor sites, CB1 activation increases and the Endocannabinoid System is able to do its job.

There are a few exceptions to this indirect mode of action – CBD has been found to directly bind with some receptors in the brain, including the serotonin 5HT1A receptor. This laboratory observation is thought to explain the antidepressant effects some patients get from CBD.

CBD and Wellness

While it remains unregulated by the FDA and is still considered a dietary supplement, CBD has been shown to be beneficial in relieving the affects of a wide array of ailments and diseases.

CBD’s affects include:

  • Anticonvulsant – reduces seizures / convulsions
  • Analgesic – reduces pain
  • Anti-inflammatory – reduces pain and inflammation
  • Antiemetic – reduces nausea and vomiting
  • Neuroprotectant – protects and regenerates the nervous system
  • Antipsychotic – reduces psychosis and disordered thoughts
  • Antioxidant – reduces damage from free radicals
  • Anti-Anxiolytic – reduces anxiety
  • Anti-Depressant

It’s important to note that science’s understanding of the Endocannabinoid System is just beginning. Medical schools are starting to relay this new information to students, and existing physicians are starting to learn about the ECS as well. Hemp and and CBD are being studied, tested, and proven effective by patients everyday!