When one is learning something totally new, like the subject of the endocannabinoid system and CBD, it sometimes helps to use comparisons. These comparisons could be in completely different fields but share enough similarities so as to make a comparison helpful to understanding.
When we are talking about CBD and the other 100 plus cannabinoids in the hemp plant, there are a couple of areas that could be compared.
- We can compare the endocannabinoid system and what CBD does in and on the body with other products that people use in and on their bodies.
- We can compare the brand new CBD industry with other new and/or regulated industries.
In this article, we will address the first one.
The Endocannabinoid System, Your Body, and CBD
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the system in our body that interacts with cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds produced by both the cannabis plant and our bodies.
Cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant are called phytocannabinoids (Phyto means “plant”) and were first identified in the 1940s. Then, in 1992, Dr. Mechoulam’s lab isolated the first cannabinoid produced by the human body. These cannabinoids are called endocannabinoids (endo means “inner”).
The ECS is a foundational monitoring system that helps our body maintain balance. A white paper published by the National Institute of Health says this about the ECS system:
“The endocannabinoid system has been recently recognized as an important modulatory system in the function of the brain, endocrine, and immune tissues. It appears to play a very important regulatory role in the secretion of hormones related to reproductive functions and response to stress.”
The Endocannabinoid System / Thermostat Analogy
As a “regulating” system—there are all kinds of analogies that can be used to explain the ECS. One could use the analogy of a thermostat in a house. When the air gets too cool, the thermostat kicks in and tells the heater to turn on. When the air gets too hot, the thermostat kicks into action and tells the air conditioner to blow cold air.
One could say that the endocannabinoid is similar to a thermostat—when it detects certain conditions in the body, it kicks into action telling other parts of the body what to do.
These functions all contribute to homeostasis, a big word referring to the internal balance of one’s body. If an outside force, such as pain from an injury or a fever, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS kicks in to help your body return to its ideal operation.
Today, experts believe that maintaining homeostasis is the primary role of the ECS.
Your Body and Vitamins
Vitamins are any of various organic substances that are essential in minute quantities to the nutrition of most animals and some plants—and essential means essential. Lack of some of the 13 vitamins will even kill you!
Our bodies get the vitamins they need in two ways: making them or eating them.
At one point, a long long time ago, our microbial ancestors probably made some or all of their required vitamins, but eventually, that ability was lost. We humans have probably needed vitamins for billions of years, even if we didn’t know it.
In the context of history, the discovery of vitamins is recent. Discovery of the substances began in the early nineteenth century and ended in the mid-twentieth century. It was in 1912 that Casimir Funk originally coined the term “vitamine”, just a few decades before the discovery of cannabinoids.
The Discovery of Vitamins—a Team Effort
While Funk may have coined the term “vitamine” (which later dropped the “e” and became vitamin), the 13 vitamins were in fact discovered by a number of different individuals. As Dr. Simba wrote in his abstract:
“The puzzle of each vitamin was solved through the work and contributions of epidemiologists, physicians, physiologists, and chemists. Rather than a mythical story of crowning scientific breakthroughs, the reality was slow, stepwise progress that included setbacks, contradictions, refutations, and some chicanery.”
One vitamin was even discovered with the help of chickens.
You read that right.
How Chickens Helped us Discover Vitamin B1
Beriberi (pronounced “berry berry”) is a disease that causes people to lose the feeling in their legs and have trouble walking. The first account of the disease was given in the late 1790s and baffled scientists for a hundred years.
In the 1880s, scientist Christiaan Eijkman found that chickens could develop a beriberi-like condition. He started studying these birds in order to find the cause of the disease. He thought it was some kind of bacteria for a long time.
But then he discovered that a flock of sick chickens suddenly recovered from those same beriberi-like symptoms.
Lightbulb moment. What happened? Why did these chickens get better?
It Was The Rice!
In the mid-1800s manufacturers began processing rice in steam-powered mills. This process stripped off the outer layer of the rice. This layer happened to be a pretty critical part of the rice though no one knew it.
It turned out that the chickens Dr. Eijkman had been studying were being fed leftover processed rice. The rice came from a nearby military hospital in the Netherlands.
“Then the cook was replaced and his successor refused to allow military rice to be taken for civilian chickens,” Dr. Eijkman later explained when he accepted the 1929 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research.
Once the birds started eating unprocessed rice, they quickly recovered. Dr. Eijkman figured out that something essential must be in that outer layer.
In 1912, the Polish-born biochemist Casimir Funk called this mysterious compound a “vital amine,” which came to be shortened to vitamin. (An “amine”, in case you care to know, is an organic compound. It is derived from ammonia by replacement of one or more hydrogen atoms by organic groups.) In this case, the amines were vital to life.
Later, researchers discovered that the outer layer of rice is rich in vitamin B1, which is also known as thiamine.
The Parallel Between Cannabinoids and Vitamins
It is interesting to note the close relationship and evolution in the chemistry of plants and living creatures.
In an earlier article, we wrote about how scientists believe that cannabis evolved to adapt to the human body. That is the prevailing explanation for why the phytocannabinoids of cannabis fit perfectly with the ECS receptors of the human endocannabinoid system.
Well, as it turns out, the human body also adapts to the diet it consumes. Where the human body was once able to synthesize vitamin C, now it cannot. Our primate ancestors lost the ability to make their own vitamin C about 60 million years ago. Their bodies didn’t need to make vitamin C because they regularly ate fruit. A wide variety of plants and animals still do synthesize vitamin C from carbohydrates like glucose. The only mammals that can’t do it are primates (including us!) and the guinea pig.
And the moral is: use it or lose it, baby.
In the next Putting in into Perspective article, we will dive a little deeper into vitamins themselves and take a look at some of the similarities the CBD and Vitamin industries have faced.