Home > The Complex Nature of Abused Substances and Getting Help for Addiction > Endocannabinoids
Endocannabinoids are a naturally occurring compound that is found within the human body. One of the remarkable things about this material is its similarity to the active ingredients of cannabis. This natural substance is able to produce similar effects as marijuana. It manages to do this because it is picked up by the same receptors in the brain as cannabis. There are even claims that it is endocannabinoids that are responsible for the runner’s high; the intense feeling of euphoria that people can get when they exercise a lot. There is also some evidence that suggests that the endocannabinoid system may have a role to play in addiction.
It was the desire to find out the exact mechanism by which cannabis works in the body that led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system. This system is made up of different receptors within the brain and elsewhere in the body. These receptors allow cannabis to produce effects within the central nervous system. These receptors are found predominately in parts of the brain associated with emotion, motor control, cognition, and motivation. They are also to be found in the autonomic nervous system where many of the body’s unconscious functions are controlled. It is this binding together of marijuana with the receptors that triggers such effects as pain relief and the increased sense of well-being.
Not only does the body have a system for receiving cannabis, but it can also create its own form of this drug that can connect with these receptors. The active ingredient in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol. The compound produced by the body is very similar to tetrahydrocannabinol. Endocannabinoids are a type of lipid and is believed to be involved in almost every process within the body. These transmitters can produce similar effects to cannabis such as reducing pain and anxiety. They can also produce feelings of well-being and euphoria. Under certain conditions these natural substances work in the same way as tetrahydrocannabinol.
It has been suggested that endocannabinoids act as a reward system for exercise. In the past the good feelings produced by exercise were credited to endorphins, but it now seems that the real hero may be the endocannabinoid. It has even been shown that mice that have been bred without an endocannabinoid system are less likely to exercise on a running wheel. Another study involving mice and running wheels showed that the endocannabinoid system was activated when these animals were engaged in pleasurable activities. This would imply that it is the endocannabinoids that encourages the running behavior – at least in mice anyway. Additional evidence for the role of these transmitters can be found in the similarity between descriptions of the runner’s high and descriptions of the cannabis produced high.
It may be that these endocannabinoids may play an important role in addiction. The endocannabinoid hypothesis of drug reward suggests that it is these compounds that produce the rewarding effects that fuel addiction. The alcoholic or drug addict is rewarded for their behavior so they continue to do it. If it is the endocannabinoid system that is motivating the behavior then perhaps in the future there will be treatments to counter it. More research will be needed to fully understand the role of endocannabinoids in addiction, but there are good reasons to believe that it does play have a part to play.
It is also suggested that endocannabinoids may be responsible for eating disorders that lead to obesity. Certain foods seem to trigger the body to produce endocannabinoids and it is this that motivates people to keep on eating.
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