If you’ve been reading about CBD or cannabinoids in general, you probably noticed that the phrase homeostasis pops up frequently.
If you’re anything like most of the public, it’s a phrase you wouldn’t naturally associate with cannabis…We don’t blame you.
We would be the same had we not come across the endocannnabinoid system and decided to learn more about how CBD works within our body.
What Is Homeostasis?
Homeostasis describes the tendency for bodily functions and systems to fluctuate and adjust in order to maintain a steady-state of equilibrium. These actions are derived from feedback loops which serve as mediators to a changing external environment.
Homeostasis also involves regulating our drives and behaviors in regards to a roughly 24-hour cycle. Take for instance our day/night circadian rhythms regulated via melatonin; regulation of food intake; cortisol levels; core body temperature; and the timing of other biological processes.
Now in plain English…Homeostasis ensures our body is kept in optimal condition by orchestrating a variety of internal changes in response to internal or external changes.
Consider how body temperature, hunger or stress can alter how your bodily functions and the fact you have direct feedback loops which prompt you to sweat, eat, or do something to de-stress.
For example, our body temperature hovers around 37° C, and we have processes in place to maintain this by shivering when cold or sweating when hot.
You might be wondering why all of this is important, and what all this have to do with CBD?
Maintaining an internal equilibrium is crucial
To survive, all living organisms need to maintain homeostasis.
The endocrine, exocrine, and nervous systems influence homeostasis via mostly negative feedback loops with a wide variety of internal bodily systems to maintain a pre-set internal environment.
Even our very own cells are constantly working to have appropriate concentrations of elements and minerals for things like maintaining proper heart rhythm, conducting signals, and contracting muscle. All vital functions depend on ensuring the body operates in optimal condition by regulating these conditions and indicators within a specific threshold.
By continually making small adjustments and thus increasing or decreasing stimuli on the cellular level, the human body can ensure our body functions optimally.
The human body is naturally in a constant state of flux in an attempt to maintain this equilibrium, and it does this via a variety of adjustments known as homeostatic processes.
So what are they?
How does homeostasis work?
Homeostatic control mechanisms contain three components which can be summarised in short below:
- A receptor neuron senses external stimuli which then begins a response to send information to the control centre (usually the brain).
- The control centre (often the hypothalamus section of the brain) signals an effector located in another part of the body to respond to the stimuli. The hypothalamus signal may go back through an effector neuron, or it may release a short endocrine signal to the pituitary gland for farther hormone response.
- The effector then sends feedback again to the control centre, which signals an increased response to the stimuli, or the centre informs the effector to stop signalling if equilibrium has been achieved.
- This three-step process continues indefinitely as a loop known as positive (increasing the response) or negative feedback.
Three examples of homeostasis
- Temperature: The body must maintain an average temperature of 37° C (98.6° F) to operate in optimal condition. The hypothalamus section of the brain controls when we sweat, and when it receives increasing impulses that we are too hot, it signals our body to start sweating. Once we reach 37° C, the same control centre stops sending the signal so that stop sweating and maintain our core body temperature. Our core body temperature will also naturally slightly fluctuate with our sleep/wake cycles.
- Glucose levels: Blood sugar levels rise when we eat, and the body responds by releasing insulin from the pancreas when the levels exceed an optimal operating threshold and stores the excess glucose as glycogen. On the other hand, when blood sugar levels become too low, glucagon from the pancreas signals the liver to convert its glycogen into glucose for immediate release.
- Blood pressure: The cardiovascular system must maintain blood pressure within a reasonable range to efficiently pump blood around the body and maintain organ perfusion. The cardiovascular centre located in the brain receives impulses from receptors located in blood vessels around the body to increase or decrease the pressure. Blood pressure homeostasis also involves a complicated cascade of hormones involving the brain, kidneys, blood vessels, and even the lungs that help regulate pressures in the long term.
The role of the endocannabinoid system in homeostasis
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a highly complex physiological system found in all mammals and most living organisms with a vertebrate.
Research suggests the ECS is a regulator of other systems found within our body and that it assists in restoring balance. It has been recognised as an essential modulatory system which maintains the function of multiple organs and vital tissue found in the body.
The ECS has three primary areas of functionality:
- Cannabinoid receptors are known as CB1 and CB2 which are found across the body but located most extensively in the central nervous system and immune system.
- Cannabinoids produced by our body called “Endocannabinoids” interact with the ECS and bind with the receptors. The two most well-known of these compounds are called (2-arachidonoyl glycerol) (2-AG) and anandamide.
- Enzymes break up endocannabinoids when they are no longer needed or if they are produced in excess. The most common of these enzymes are known as MAGL (breaks down anandamide) and FAAH (breaks down 2-AG). There is potential in inhibiting these enzymes.
The endocannabinoid system is a highly complex physiological system found in all mammals and most living organisms with a vertebrate.
The ECS is a regulator of the other systems within our body, and it is connected to each one through cannabinoid receptors which relay messages when activated, ensuring our body maintains homeostasis.
Endocannabinoids are vital in the management of homeostasis by signalling other systems in our body to make changes when necessary.
As a result, homeostasis is a product of organs and systems in the body interacting with the ECS to orchestrate feedback loops. Without the endocannabinoid system, we would be unable to maintain this internal balance.
Does CBD promote homeostasis?
Plant cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) mimic the action of compounds found in our body which flow through the ECS.
Although, unlike other phytocannabinoids like THC, CBD doesn’t directly fit into any of the two receptors which control the effects derived from the ECS.
However, it is thought to stimulate receptor activity without directly interacting them itself. Research suggests this might be because CBD promotes anandamide production, one of 2 primary endocannabinoids.
Which consequently fosters homeostatic regulation by binding to cannabinoid receptors. Promoting nerve cell development in the brain via a process known as neurogenesis. Nerve cells are crucial to improve control centre signalling while enhancing functions such as learning and memory.
Our understanding of the Endocannabinoid System is still rudimentary, and it’s clear more research is required to understand its exact interactions in promoting a homeostatic response.
Nonetheless, it is evident that the CBD can drive changes in our body through the ECS. Which can influence effects felt in systems across the human anatomy.
It’s exciting to think of the possibilities. Today we can hypothesise, but not say for certain, how all this exactly fits together.