Humans have been cultivating and consuming cannabis for thousands of years. However, only in the last century have researchers been able to uncover how cannabis works from a biological standpoint via the endocannabinoid system.

Components of the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system is a biological signaling system present throughout much of the human body. The system is made up of three main components.

1. Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are a diverse class of lipid-based compounds. They control the endocannabinoid system by binding to cannabinoid receptors (see below) and come in three varieties.

  • Phytocannabinoids: a family of plant-derived compounds produced by the trichomes of the cannabis plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two most prevalent cannabinoids found in cannabis.
  • Endocannabinoids: endogenous cannabinoids produced by the body. Anandamide was the first endocannabinoid to be identified by researchers.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids: originally designed by scientists looking to study the effects of cannabinoids without legal worries, these are artificially synthesized cannabinoids used in research as well as legal herbal products like K2 and Spice.

2. Cannabinoid Receptors

Located on the surface of certain cells throughout the body, cannabinoid receptors help modulate the activity of the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids can bind to certain cannabinoid receptors like a key fitting into a lock. There are two known cannabinoid receptor subtypes, CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors are found mainly in the central nervous system (CNS) and are concentrated in areas of the brain responsible for high-order behavioral functions like learning and memory as well as homeostatic processes like feeding.

CB2 receptors are found in organs outside of the CNS and are associated with the immune system.

3. Enzymes

Certain enzymes are responsible for synthesizing and degrading cannabinoids. This controls the level of cannabinoids and thereby helps regulate the activity of the endocannabinoid system.

Biological Function

The endocannabinoid system was discovered by scientists exploring the psychological and physiological effects of cannabis. However, this complex biological system doesn’t exist just so humans can get high.

The endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis or a state of balance in the body by regulating our mood, appetite, temperature, immunity, sleep, and much more.

And it’s not only present in humans. The endocannabinoid system is evolutionarily conserved. Even dogs have an endocannabinoid system.

Throwing Cannabis into the Mix

When you ingest cannabis, phytocannabinoids enter the bloodstream and the brain. These plant-based cannabinoids take effect by mimicking our endogenous cannabinoids and essentially hijacking the body’s endocannabinoid system.

In the case of high-THC cannabis strains, the end result is intoxication. However, CBD-rich cannabis strains with low levels of THC can activate the endocannabinoid system without causing a high and are becoming increasingly popular.

That’s why cannabinoid profiling and potency testing is crucial. Not only is it required by the Bureau of Cannabis Control for all cannabis products sold legally in California, but consumers now expect to know what proportion of THC and CBD their purchases contain.

Looking for full-service testing for your cannabis products? Encore Labs offers a complete California compliance cannabis testing package that includes cannabinoid profiling.