The endocannabinoid system

systeme endocanabinoid

Qu’est-ce que le système endocannabinoïde ?

The ECS (endocannabinoid system) is a vast network of chemical signals and cellular neuroreceptors that are densely packed in our brains and bodies.

The “cannabinoid” receptors in the brain – the CB1 receptors – are more numerous than other types of receptors in the brain.

They act as circulating agents to control the levels and activity of most other neurotransmitters.

This is how they regulate things: by immediate feedback, by increasing or decreasing the activity of the system that needs to be adjusted, whether it be hunger, temperature or alertness.

To stimulate these receptors, our bodies produce molecules called endocannabinoids, which have a structural similarity to the molecules in the cannabis plant.

The first endocannabinoid that was discovered was named anandamide after the Sanskrit word ananda for happiness.

We all have tiny cannabis-like molecules floating around in our brains.

The cannabis plant, which humans have been using for about 5,000 years, essentially hijacks this ancient cellular machinery.

A second type of cannabinoid receptor, the CB2 receptor, exists primarily in our immune tissues and is essential in helping to control our immune function, and it plays a role in modulating intestinal inflammation, contraction and pain in inflammatory bowel conditions.

CB2 receptors are particularly interesting targets for drug development because they do not cause the cannabis-related high that CB1 receptor stimulation does

(which is often an undesirable side effect).

Quel est le rôle du système endocannabinoïde dans l’apprentissage et la mémoire ?

We know that the endocannabinoid system plays a critical role in learning and memory because of several lines of research.

The most obvious observation is that one of the main side effects of high doses of recreational cannabis is the temporary impairment of short-term memory.

Memory returns to normal with abstinence.

There have also been sophisticated studies of how humans respond acutely to THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) and how it changes both their ability to remember things in the short term and the patterns seen on their functional brain imaging.

According to popular writer Michael Pollan in his best-selling book The Botany of Desire, cannabis is one of the plants that humans have grown or co-evolved with for thousands of years.

In part, Pollan writes, this is because the act of forgetting plays a valuable role in our brain’s ability to function without being overloaded with data from our senses that continually bombard us. Pollan hypothesizes that if we don’t forget, we won’t function, and cannabis will help us do that.

The role that the endocannabinoid system plays in forgetting also opens up opportunities for the treatment of PTSD, a condition in which there are unpleasant and intrusive memories that people can’t help but recall, and which cause a whole syndrome of troublesome and dangerous symptoms related to pathological recollection.

Quel est le rôle de l’ECS dans la faim et le réglage fin des médicaments amaigrissants ?

The cautionary tale of the CB1 receptor-blocking drug rimonabant is an interesting example of the central role the endocannabinoid system plays in so many crucial functions.

It was developed as an anti-obesity drug.

The idea was that the endocannabinoid system controls hunger.

We know this because, among other evidence, cannabis gives you “the munchies,” so if you block the CB1 receptor, it should result in weight loss.

Rimonabant has been very successful in reducing weight. However, since the endocannabinoid system also regulates mood, it had to be withdrawn from the market in a hurry because people who took it became suicidal. However, we can imagine a case, as we better understand the complexities of the SEC, where we might be able to create a weight loss drug that acts on the cannabinoid receptors that affect weight loss, but does not act on those receptors that control mood.

L’exploration du système endocannabinoïde pourrait conduire à la découverte de nouveaux médicaments

The study of the endocannabinoid system was initially focused on attempts to understand (and demonize) an illegal drug, but new research has since developed into a much broader exploration of what is a surprisingly complex and far-reaching system by which our bodies learn, feel, motivate, and keep themselves in balance.

We are truly on the cusp of an era of discovery of the endocannabinoid system and the development of new drugs that could help alleviate some of the cruelest diseases suffered by humans (and animals).

Glossaire sur le Système Endocannabinoïde :

  • Endocannabinoid system (ECS): Intercellular communication system responsible for the balance of metabolic processes and the optimization of our body’s functions.
  • Phytocannabinoid: Cannabinoid naturally produced by a plant.
  • Endocannabinoid: Cannabinoid naturally produced by the human or animal body.
  • Synthetic Cannabinoids: Cannabinoids created in the laboratory.
  • Cannabinoid receptor: Components of the endocannabinoid system that are responsible for activation and binding to endocannabinoids/phytocannabinoids.
  • Cannabinoid enzymes: components of the endocrine system that synthesize and break down cannabinoids.
  • Homeostasis: All the functions that ensure the stability and balance of our organism in the face of changes, with the aim of maintaining a relative constant in the composition and properties of an organism.

Many of us have heard of some of the transmitting systems in our bodies, such as the sympathetic nervous system, which gives us our fight or flight response.

Fewer have heard of the more recently discovered endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is surprising considering that the ECS is essential for almost every aspect of our instantaneous functioning.

The endocannabinoid system regulates and controls many of our most critical bodily functions such as learning and memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses, and nutrition.

ECS is currently at the center of renewed international research and drug development.

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