Understanding cannabinoid receptors in the body.
Cannabis works by activating cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body. Activation of cannabinoid receptors occurs when a principle active ingredient like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) binds to a receptor resulting in changes in cellular signalling which is the communication that occurs between and within each cell in our body.
Cannabinoid receptors are found in most tissues and organ systems. Generally speaking, cannabinoid-1 (CB1) receptors are found in the central nervous system and cannabinoid-2 (CB2) receptors are found in the peripheral immune system.
The body has its own internal cannabinoid system which is involved in the regulation of many bodily functions including: central and peripheral nervous system, immune system, cardiovascular system, pulmonary system, digestive system, circadian rhythm, reproductive system, to name a few.
Photo by Marina Vitale
Medical cannabis works on cellular receptors that inhibit specific cellular signals and stimulates conduction within a cell when active molecules like THC or CBD bind to cannabinoid receptors in the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS). Similar to the nervous system the ECS is a signalling system shown to play an important regulatory function throughout the human body.
The two cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, each respond to different cannabinoids. However, some cannabinoids do respond to both. They are also present in different parts of the body which is why different cannabis strains with different concentrations of cannabinoids can offer different health outcomes.
CB1 receptors are mostly found in the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord but not the brain stem. For example, there are CB1 receptors in the hypothalamus, which is involved with appetite regulation, and in nerve endings where they act to reduce sensations of pain. (The fact that there are no CB1 receptors in the brain stem is why we see no overdoses that stop breathing with cannabis use.)
CB2 receptors are predominantly found peripherally in the immune system tissues, including the spleen, tonsils and thymus gland as well as the gastrointestinal system. When CB2 receptors are activated, they work to reduce inflammation. Inflammation is an immune response which is plays a role in a wide variety of diseases and conditions.
Written by: Dr. Hamed Hashemi, Medical Director, Northern Green Canada
Dr. Hamed Hashemi is the Medical Health Director for Northern Green Canada. Prior to joining Northern Green Canada, Hamed practiced as general practitioner and medical professor for two years in Atlanta, GA. He received his medical degree from AUIS School of Medicine and holds a B.Sc. in Nursing (with honours) from York University in Ontario.