What are CB2 Receptors? [Easily Explained]

The vital role of CB2 receptors in health and disease
Nicole Richter Nicole Richter / Updated on February 18, 2019

What are CB2 Receptors

Many cannabis users are familiar with the well-known cannabinoids like THC and CBD – the therapeutic compounds that can provide an abundance of medicinal relief for various medical conditions including nausea, inflammation, and pain.

Cannabinoids, and their terpenoid cousins, are basically the chemicals that provide the actual relief to patients by means of inserting themselves into special receptors that are found in the cells and tissue of the human body. They are among the more than 480 natural components that make up the cannabis plant.

These special receptors form part of what is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system helps to modulate many bodily functions, including anxiety level, appetite, and cognition – it is intimately connected to the immune system and nervous system. Interestingly, certain cannabinoids target particular types of receptors found on the surface of the cells in various areas of the body.

Formally, this targeting is known as binding affinity. There are some molecules which may feature quite a low binding affinity and thus offer poor or moderate efficacy for patients. Other pairings could feature a very strong affinity, and when combined with cannabinoids extracted from high-quality plants, may result in superb medical benefits.

The Endocannabinoid System and CB2 Receptors

In order to understand the CB2 receptor and what it is, we must first explore the incredible system that is the ECS in more detail. The main purpose of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain balance (homeostasis) in the body. Subsequently, it plays a major role in regulating functions that we take for granted, like temperature, mood, memory, sleeping, pleasure, reproduction, pain, immunity, and the reward system.

As we explained above, the ECS is comprised of cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors that react to cannabinoids and can be found throughout the body, as well as the enzymes that break these cannabinoids down. The reason that cannabis is thought to be so effective at treating many different conditions is because of the cannabinoids that it releases into our bodies to stimulate the ECS, and this stimulation makes us feel good.

Endocannabinoids that are needed to engage our ECS are naturally produced by our bodies, but medical professionals and researchers have identified endocannabinoid deficiency (the shortage of endocannabinoids) as a precursor to many diseases. Cannabis is believed to help people who have endocannabinoid deficiencies to compensate and regain health.

THC and CBD are the well-known externally introduced cannabinoids that interact with the cannabinoid receptors and enzymes. There are at least another 80 lesser-researched but also therapeutic cannabinoids, such as CBN. Each of these cannabinoids will react differently with receptors, and which type of receptor they trigger will determine their effectiveness.

In the most basic sense, the ECS’ communications consist of messengers and receptors. The brain produces endocannabinoid molecules (such as anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol) naturally. These molecules are home-grown messengers that are found in the organs, glands, immune cells, brain, and connective tissues.

Endocannabinoids such as anandamide act like natural THC in the body, but have a much shorter effect than THC does. Anandamide is derived from the Sanskrit word for “bliss”, which makes it a natural “bliss” molecule in the body. In cannabis, there are plant cannabinoids (the most popular being THC and CBD), and also synthetic cannabinoids that are lab created and can be as much as 600 times more powerful than THC.

Cannabinoids search for and activate cannabinoid receptors (like CB1 and CB2), and when they bind together, they tell the body to feel a specific way and do certain things. In addition, they affect and regulate the way in which other bodily systems function, like the nervous, immune, and gastrointestinal systems.

So What Exactly are CB2 Receptors?

There are two main types of receptors in the ECS: CB1 and CB2. For the purpose of this article, we will be taking a closer look at the CB2 receptor. First discovered in 1993, CB2 receptors are primarily found on cells in the immune system, as well as its associated structures – there’s a heavy concentration in the gastrointestinal system and spleen.

CB2 receptors bind together best with the endocannabinoid 2-AG, and also, none other than cannabis’ CBD. These are the receptors that are involved in the regulation of pain management, immune system functions like inflammation, and appetite.

When CB2 receptors are activated, there’s a stimulation response that fights inflammation, and this, in turn, reduces pain and minimizes the damage to the tissue area. These anti-inflammatory effects are beneficial in the treatment of inflammation-related conditions such as Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and arthritis.

Since CB2 receptors are found in greater density in the gastrointestinal system, they modulate intestinal inflammatory responses, which is why IBS and Crohn’s disease patients experience great relief when using cannabis as medicine. It’s also a powerful example of how the ECS, when supplemented by external cannabinoids (like from cannabis), can provide very powerful and long-lasting relief for patients who have diseases like Crohn’s.

The Importance of CB2 Receptors

CB2 receptors are responsible for the massive range of medicinal benefits that are connected to cannabis because they’re responsible for reducing inflammation, which is one of the primary causes for a variety of diseases and conditions. Due to the location of CB2 receptors and their ability to reduce inflammation, those cannabinoids that have a high binding affinity to CB2 receptors have shown remarkable efficacy in treating conditions like Crohn’s disease.

A study done in 2009 discovered that CB2 receptors have the therapeutic potential to treat those conditions that demonstrate hyper-inflammation, like ALS, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers suggested that finding a way to exclusively activate CB2 receptors is how these conditions can be treated without triggering the psychoactive effects that are associated with CB1 receptors.

A 2014 study discovered that CB2 receptors play a part in modulating dopamine activity in the area of the brain that is known as ventral tegmental. This is the part that is responsible for reward and addiction. The study found that by activating CB2 receptors, cocaine-addicted mice administered a decreased amount of cocaine to themselves. These findings support the idea that the activation of CB2 receptors could provide effective therapy against drug addiction. In essence, because of the ability that cannabis has to activate these receptors, there is the potential that cannabis could work as a treatment against addiction.

Final Thoughts on CB2 Receptors

Overall, more significant research is still needed to be done to better understand the interaction between cannabinoids and CB2 receptors. Scientists are still investigating how exactly supplementing our natural cannabinoid production with these plant-based cannabinoids could play a significant therapeutic role in one’s health.

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