What Are CB1 Receptors?

Green Shoppers Written by Green Shoppers
Updated on May 17, 2019

The cannabis plant has been used by humans for millennia. It was reportedly used as a medicine in ancient societies, and it has been used as a religious device in many cultures. In more recent times, marijuana has been used illegally as a drug throughout the majority of the world.

The matter of how cannabis causes the effects it does on the body has perplexed scientists for centuries. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that we really started to learn about the way cannabis works. The discovery of compounds from the cannabis plant, called cannabinoids, has led to a plethora of other scientific discoveries – one of these is the endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a vital biological system which impacts a number of our physiological functions, including immune response, stress, appetite, memory, metabolism, and more. It works through a series of receptors designed to interact with cannabinoids, aptly named cannabinoid receptors. The two primary receptors are CB1 and CB2, which have slightly different jobs.

In today’s article, we will be talking about the CB1 receptor and how important it is to a healthy life.

First Off, What is the Endocannabinoid System?

Before we give more details on the CB1 receptor, we should talk a little more about the endocannabinoid system. Despite its importance, this system was not really discovered until the latter half of the 20th century, when scientists studying the cannabis plant encountered its receptors.

The ECS consists of three main parts: Cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. The cannabinoid receptors are specialised lipids. They sit on the surface of cells and “listen” to what’s going in the body, ready to respond to internal and external changes.

Endocannabinoids are a little bit like the cannabinoids in plants. They are compounds which are synthesised (created) by the body as and when we need them. When a change occurs, the body creates endocannabinoids which bind to their corresponding cannabinoid receptors, fitting together like a lock and key. In this way, the ECS passes messages around the body that helps us to respond to anything we may face.

Once the endocannabinoids have fulfilled their job, enzymes destroy them so that they don’t remain in the body for too long.

Up to now, we know of two primary cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. We know of a few endocannabinoids, too, but only a few of them are well-studied. One such endocannabinoid is anandamide, also called the “bliss molecule.” This has a particular affinity for the CB1 receptor, which is found primarily throughout the brain and central nervous system (CNS).

The CB1 receptor was actually the first receptor to be discovered, all the way back in 1990. The CB2 receptor was discovered a little later, in 1992.

CB1 Receptors: What They Do

CB1 receptors are found throughout the body, but exist in denser concentrations in the nervous system, spinal cord and brain. A few CB1 receptors are also scattered throughout the endocrine glands, white blood cells, spleen, and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

The location of these receptors is fundamental in determining their role in the body. They mainly regulate things like sleep, appetite, memory, and pain sensation due to their existence within the brain and CNS. When cannabinoids interact with the CB1 receptor, it is things like this which will be targeted.

Studies into the CB1 receptor, such as this one from 2005, have suggested that a healthy CB1 receptor could be crucial in maintaining good mental health and mitigating anxiety. There is not a lot of research into cannabinoid receptors, but preliminary research does suggest that it could play a large role in your health.

Cannabinoids and the CB1 Receptor

In terms of endocannabinoids, it is anandamide which is associated most with the CB1 receptor. The “bliss molecule” is a hormone similar to serotonin, and it can help us to feel positive and uplifted when it is created. It is actually created during exercise, forming what you probably know as a “runner’s high.”

Anandamide mimics the effects of phytocannabinoids (those found in plants) like THC. As you may already know, THC is the psychoactive compound found in cannabis; it causes the high after imbibing marijuana. THC has a high binding affinity for the CB1 receptor, which actually explains a lot of the effects of a psychoactive high.

Being “high” can cause short-term memory issues, an elongated sense of time, euphoria, and physical effects such as “couchlock”, which will leave you glued to your sofa as your muscles feel heavy. All of this is because THC binds to the CB1 receptors, which of course are located in the brain and central nervous system. With CB1 playing a large role in memory storage, it makes sense that THC would inhibit this function. CB1’s abundance in the nervous system also explains the feeling of couchlock experienced by many.

Of course, anandamide and THC are not the only cannabinoids that interact with the CB1 receptor. However, they are probably the two most well-known examples. Another one you might be aware of is CBD.

Cannabidiol is an extremely popular food supplement, and this comes partly because it is non-psychoactive. Unlike THC, CBD does not actually bind to any cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it supplements the ECS and encourages it to create more of its own endocannabinoids. In this way, it can help the ECS to function completely naturally, and can in no way cause a psychoactive high.

Final Thoughts on CB1 Receptors

As more research delves into the intricacies of the endocannabinoid system, we are sure to find out more and more about how important it is. Despite its fairly recent discovery, it is already apparent that the ECS is critical in maintaining a healthy lifestyle; it interacts with a number of bodily functions to regulate and balance our bodies.

The CB1 receptor is found in vital locations such as the brain and nervous system. These localities could prove to be important in treating a number of related ailments, but we are as of yet awaiting on the science to prove this. So far, researchers have only managed to conclude that the CB1 receptor at least plays a role in the development of these disorders.

If you are a CBD user, you know understand a little more about how cannabidiol interacts with your body – and specifically your brain. CBD food supplements are a great way to maintain the health of the ECS, in part by utilising the important CB1 receptors. Plus, you also know why THC and marijuana can make you high – which is always a fun piece of knowledge to have to hand!