The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a prevalent neuromodulatory system that plays a crucial role in the physiological response to environmental stimuli, behavioral development, and plasticity. The ECS comprises two separate domains, an outer domain composed of neurons that mediate sensory and neuroendocrine processes, and an inner domain, composed of synapses, which mediate behavioral responses. It has recently been discovered that these two domains interact with one another through a process called intracellular signaling.
The ECS is affected by numerous intracellular signaling pathways. Some of these include G-protein signaling, inward inhibitory monoreceptors (MSN), intracellular trafficking, and internal mechanisms. It is also found that the ECS is sensitive to numerous environmental factors including physical and chemical stress, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and immunity. In recent years, it has been discovered that the body’s natural defenses, the innate immune system, play major roles in regulating the levels of endocannabinoids and other neurotransmitters throughout the body. In fact, the regulation of the ECS can result in the body’s natural defensive mechanism to reduce inflammation after exposure to a common illness like influenza or even the common cold.
There is currently no known cure for any disease. However, medical advancements have resulted in the identification of a wide range of diseases and associated symptoms that can be treated through the use of certain medications. In fact, there are more than 400 different kinds of drugs that are known to affect the ECS. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that although the endocannabinoid system is highly involved in the regulation of emotions and mood, it can also be affected by the body’s exposure to stressful situations.
Recent studies have shown that the administration of certain specific endocannabinoid compounds can alleviate the negative effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI). These compounds, which are derived from cannabis, are believed to help the body heal itself after TBI. In addition, the compounds appear to be effective at reducing seizures in children who suffer from epilepsy. It is currently being studied if these compounds possess similar properties to conventional pain relievers, as well as antidepressant medications.
Another region of the human brain that is believed to influence the ECS is the central nervous system. The CNS is believed to control motor function, attention, muscle tone, sleep, and mood. Some recent studies suggest that there are strong connections between the ECS and the part of the brain called the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia control motor function by coordinating motor activity between neurons within the body.
Many recent studies indicate that the relationship between the ECS and homeostasis is influenced by the existence of two distinct sets of endocannabinoid receptors. These two types of receptors are known as CB1 and GABA. The presence of these two competing sets of neurotransmitters may explain why marijuana smokers display withdrawal symptoms when given an opportunity to smoke another type of cigarette. GABA is typically present in higher concentrations during periods of homeostasis, such as sleep or rest.
In recent years, schizophrenia patients have been shown to have less than normal levels of GABA in their brains. Additionally, a recent study performed at the University of California-Davis indicates that the level of endocannabinoid system inhibitory synapses is similar in schizophrenia patients as those of healthy adults. This finding provides additional evidence that the relationship between schizophrenia and marijuana may be genetic, as children who suffer from schizophrenia have lower levels of both GABA and endocannabinoid receptors than healthy adults. Furthermore, it appears that repeated marijuana use may increase the risk of schizophrenia in non-psychotic individuals.
Although this article highlights some of the potential biological underpinning details of the relationship between schizophrenia and cannabis, more research is needed to determine whether the observed correlation is indeed causal. Some evidence does appear to suggest that the link between the two may be caused by increased endocannabinoid system activity during periods of behavioral arousal. Additionally, although schizophrenia patients do not show increased respiratory rates during these periods, they do show an increased respiratory clearance rate. It is unclear from the current studies, if the increase in respiratory clearance rates is due to the lower levels of endocannabinoids observed in these patients or if the increase in respiratory rate is due to the stress of the psychostimulant medication used to treat patients with this condition. There is also some evidence that high doses of certain benzodiazepines, which are commonly used to treat schizophrenia, increase the level of endocannabinoids in the body.