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Terpenes have a profound effect on our well-being. They can energize us, or they can sedate us. The relieve anxiety, soothe inflammation and pain, boost concentration, and alleviate a plethora of ailments. They’re a medicine, a supplement, and nature’s therapy, in chemical compound form. But how do they work on us?
According to Dr. Josh Kaplan of The University of Washington, “there is a dual route by which terpenes can have a therapeutic benefit.” For years it was thought that people benefited from inhaling terpenes because “our olfactory system, or sense of smell, is tied to emotional centers in the brain, thus having a positive effect on our mood,” which they, in face, do. However, recently “it’s been identified that the terpenes also act directly on brain cells to modulate their activity.” This neurotherapeutic attribute is what makes the medical potential of terpenes so rousing. Terpenes may be integral in curing or treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and seizure disorders, and other neurological disorders, since they interact directly with the brain. The brain is not the only part of the body terpenes interact with…
One of the primary reasons cannabis and terpenes have such beneficial effects throughout the brain and body is due to the endocannabinoid system or ECS. Like the nervous system, digestive system, endocrine system, and other major organ systems, the endocannabinoid system is a major biological system throughout our bodies involved in maintaining our health.
Named after the plant which led to its discovery, the endocannabinoid system is a biological network composed of endocannabinoids, neurotransmitters which bind to cannabinoid receptors all throughout the nervous system of all humans and many other animals. The endocannabinoid system has been studied using genetic and pharmacological methods. These studies have revealed that cannabinoids act as neuromodulators for a variety of processes, including motor learning, appetite, and pain sensation, among other cognitive and physical processes.
The main function of the ECS is to regulate our bodily functions and to regularly maintain a state of homeostasis, or the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment. The ECS performs many different regulatory functions, specific to the area of the body. Such functions include digestion, motor function, memory, immune response, bone growth, inflammation, appetite, blood pressure, among many others. There are three major components to the ECS, the endocannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. We're already seeing a lot of research on cannabinoid-based treatments and we're likely to see more as we gain a better understanding of the system and the substances.
There are two primary endocannabinoid receptors, identified as CB1, and CB2, both distributed predominately throughout the nervous system, immune systems and throughout the rest of the body. CB1 receptors are found in the brain, lungs, vascular system, reproductive organs, and muscles, while CB2 receptors are located in white blood cells, the colon, bones, spleen, pancreas, and immune system.
One brain region that does not express CB1 receptors is the brain stem, which is responsible for circulation and respiration. This is the primary reason why too much cannabis does not cause respiratory depression or death, both of which are very possible with opioid overdoses.
Endocannabinoids are small molecules that activate the cannabinoid receptors. the substances our bodies make naturally to stimulate these receptors. The two most well understood of these molecules are called anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).
All endocannabinoids are derivatives of polyunsaturated fatty acids, closely related to omega-3 fatty acids. Since they are fatty acids, they are not water soluble and have difficulty moving around the body. They are biosynthesized on demand and are intended to work locally.
Endocannabinoids effectively modulate the flow of neurotransmitters keeping our nervous system running smoothly and are directly linked to the mechanisms underlying memory and learning. The direct link between endocannabinoids and homeostasis can help redress specific imbalances presented by disease or injury.
Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are also found at the intersection of the body's various systems, allowing coordination and communication between different cell types. At the site of an injury, for example, cannabinoids can be found minimizing the release of activators and sensitizers from injured tissue, stabilizing the nerve cell to prevent excessive firing, and calming the nearby immune cells to prevent release of pro-inflammatory substances. Three different mechanisms of action on three different cell types for one single purpose: minimize the pain and damage caused by an injury.
The ECS is the explanation for the profound and wide-ranging impacts cannabis has on the body. With its complex actions taking place throughout our immune system, nervous system, and nearly all of the body’s organs, the endocannabinoid system serves as the bridge between the mind and the body.
Despite the estimated twenty-thousand scientific articles released on the endocannabinoid system, our general knowledge and understanding regarding the vastly significant bodily system is roughly only thirty years old. Gaps in our current understanding of the complexities of interactions between various cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and cell types likely exist. A deficiency in cannabinoids, or clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD) can lead to migraines, irritable bowel system, or fibromyalgia.