In order to understand what a CB2 receptor is, we must first discuss the incredible machine that is the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system’s primary purpose is to maintain homeostasis, or balance, within our bodies. Consequently, it plays a crucial role in regulating functions we take for granted such as temperature, sleeping, mood, memory, reproduction, pain, immunity, and pleasure and reward systems.
The endocannabinoid system is comprised of cannabinoids or endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors located throughout our bodies that react to cannabinoids, and the enzymes that break those cannabinoids down. The reason cannabis is so effective at treating an array of conditions is because the cannabinoids it releases into our bodies stimulate our endocannabinoid systems, and that stimulation makes us feel good.
Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids needed to engage our endocannabinoid systems, but researchers and medical professionals have identified endocannabinoid deficiency, or the shortage of endocannabinoids, as a precursor to many diseases.
Cannabis can help people with endocannabinoid deficiency compensate and regain health
The externally introduced cannabinoids that interact with our cannabinoid receptors and enzymes include the well -known THC and CBD as well as lesser researched but also therapeutic CBN and almost 80 others. These cannabinoids interact differently with receptors, and the type of receptor they trigger determines their effectiveness.
CB1 and CB2 Receptors
CB1 receptors cause the psychoactive effects that make cannabis so popular among recreational users. They facilitate the regulation of pain sensation, memory, sleep, mood, and appetite. THC has a very elevated binding affinity with CB1 receptors which are located throughout the glands, gonads, connective tissues, central nervous system, and the brain. THC’s binding affinity for CB1 is responsible for the euphoric sensation of being high as well as alleviation from depression, pain, and nausea. Often, chemotherapy patients use strains with elevated levels of THC to help manage their pain and nausea.
CB2 receptors cause the massive range of cannabis’ medicinal properties because they are responsible for reducing inflammation, one of the primary causes for a host of conditions and diseases. High concentrations of CB2 receptors are located in the gastrointestinal system, immune system, spleen, tonsils, thymus gland, and brain. Because of their location and their ability to reduce inflammation, cannabinoids with high binding affinity to CB2 receptors have demonstrated remarkable efficacy in the treatment of conditions like Crohn’s disease.
In fact, cannabis can put almost half of Crohn’s patients in full remission
A 2009 study found that CB2 receptors have therapeutic potential to treat conditions that demonstrate hyper-inflammation including Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. The researchers suggested that finding a mechanism to exclusively activate the CB2 receptors is a way to treat these conditions without triggering the psychoactive effects for which CB1 receptors are responsible.
A 2014 study found that CB2 receptors play a role in modulating dopamine activity in the ventral tegmental area of the brain, the part responsible for reward and addiction. The researchers found that activation of CB2 receptors caused cocaine addicted mice to decrease the amount of cocaine they administered to themselves. These findings suggest that the activation of CB2 receptors may provide an effective therapy against drug addiction, and given cannabis’ ability to activate these receptors, the potential to use cannabis as a treatment for addiction.
The Entourage Effect
While some researchers long to find an effective mechanism that exclusively activates CB2 receptors to avoid the psychotropic effects of CB1 receptors, these efforts have been unsuccessful according to this 2014 study examining the targeting of CB2. However, as demonstrated time and time again, evidence shows that CB2 receptors are extremely potent therapeutic tools. So why is it so difficult to harness that potential by targeting CB2 receptors alone?
The answer may have something to do with the phenomenon that makes cannabis work so well as medicine. The chemical compounds housed within the cannabis plant are good teammates. They aren’t egotistical or combative, and they don’t cannibalize one another. Those components work synergistically to produce what is known as the “entourage effect,” or the impressive wave of medicinal effects that make cannabis work as a powerful treatment for so many conditions.
The list of conditions is long. Cannabis has been studied as a potential treatment for ADD/ADHD, addiction, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, decreased appetite, arthritis, asthma, autism, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, brain cancer, leukemia, lung cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, diabetes, dermatitis, and the list could go on and on and on, and the point is that cannabis is versatile.
Despite this, people keep trying to prohibit cannabis or synthesize it, and the results of synthetic cannabis are nowhere near as cool as the ones from whole plant cannabis products.
A 2015 Israeli study found that whole plant cannabidiol (CBD) is superior to “pure” CBD. The researchers administered a high CBD content, whole plant extract to one group of mice and pure CBD to another. The mice that were given the whole plant CBD extract experienced far better results than the mice that received pure CBD.
Another example of the entourage effect is the relationship between THC and CBD. THC is the cannabinoid responsible for getting users high. However, it also binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. CBD, the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid, doesn’t really have much affinity for either receptor and uses different channels to engage the human body.
The attempt to eliminate THC from your cannabis diet will also severely limit cannabis’ medical efficacy.
Rather than attempting to remove one or the other, allow the two cannabinoids to work together. Strains with high CBD content but low THC can provide cannabis consumers with the minimally psychoactive, therapeutic effect they are looking for because CBD is a natural suppressant of THC.
Another type of compound inherent in the cannabis plant contributing to the entourage effect is terpenes. Terpenes are the chemical compounds responsible for each plant’s flavor and smell.
According to cannabis researcher Ethan B. Russo, the naturally occurring synergy between the cannabinoids and terpenoids in cannabis has the capacity to assuage the symptoms of anxiety, addiction, depression, inflammation, pain, epilepsy, fungal infections, bacterial infections, and cancer.
At the end of the day, it is a great idea to research the individual components of the endocannabinoid system because that system’s health is probably the most important indicator of our well-being. However, it is also important to embrace its complexity and the way it responds to the synergy found between all of the compounds inherent in a whole flower cannabis product.