What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system is made up of cannabinoids binding to endocannabinoid receptors that are broken down by enzymes or will form a g-protein coupled receptor and activate a response in the body (Hu and Mackie, 2015). Fatty acid signaling molecules break down endocannabinoids to stop endocannabinoids from activation of the endocannabinoid system (Crowe et al., 2014). The endocannabinoid system is internally responsible for the feeling of pain including all phases of the pathway leading to what causes the pain (Woodhams et al., 2015). Two endocannabinoids that have been previously studied are 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG)  and anandamide (Kano, 2014). These endocannabinoids can increase or decrease their amount in the body dependent on environmental conditions via an internal endocannabinoid mediated retrograde signaling (Kano, 2014).

            There are two cannabinoid receptors which act as endogenous ligands in the endocannabinoid system, CB1 and CB2 (Woodhams et al., 2015). CB1 receptors are located at presynaptic sites in the central and peripheral nervous system and are involved in neurotransmission (Woodhams et al., 2015). CB2 receptors are seen in the immune system and are involved in immune cells (Woodhams et al., 2015).  CB2 receptors may lower the inflammation response by entering inflammatory cells including monocytes, macrophages, and leukocytes (Moris et al., 2015). With reduced inflammation, CB2 receptors may speed up the recovery period for tissue injuries (Moris et al., 2015). Endocannabinoids provide a negative feedback system on CB1 receptors involving neurotransmission and a positive feedback system on CB2 receptors within the immune system (Woodhams et al., 2015).

            The endocannabinoid system may aid in homeostasis as well as diseases that can form within the body. The energy of the body is controlled by homeostasis by mediating food intake, insulin secretion, lipid and glucose metabolism, and lipid storage (Polak et al., 2016). Endocannabinoids can bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors to allow them to respond directly to cardiomyocytes (Polak et al., 2016). Cardiomyocytes regulate myocardial metabolism which controls energy substrates via plasma availability (Polak et al., 2016). Homeostasis controlled by endocannabinoids is studied to aid in a myriad of diseases  through homeostatic function such as neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, inflammatory, obesity, and cachexia disorders (Pacher and Kunos, 2013). As more studies are performed and results are concluded, we will know more about the endocannabinoid system and how it can aid in illnesses within the human body.

            Cannabinoids may be able slow down the growth of tumors in certain cancers (Velasco et al., 2015). This may be performed by regulating g-protein coupled receptors in the endocannabinoid system (Pisanti et al., 2013). Cannabinoid cell signaling pathways are active in  cancer cell growth and cancer cell survival (Velasco et al., 2015). Cannabinoids may stop new blood vessels from developing and cell propagation in tumors (Velasco et al., 2015). This may act as a potential treatment for cancer but further research needs to be conducted to further these studies (Pisanti et al., 2013).


Keywords: Endocannabinoid system, CB1 receptor, CB2 receptor, disease, cancer, cancer cell growth, inflammation, synaptic function, metabolism, arachidonoylglycerol, anandamide


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