Cannabis has received immense attention in recent years over its medicinal potential. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD have been found to display impressive anti-tumour, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and antioxidant effects among others. The more these compounds are studied, the more their mechanism of action is understood. Cannabinoids have been found to work in numerous ways within the human body, with the primary pathways belonging to the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The endocannabinoid system has been found to play a regulatory role over many other systems within the body. The ECS is made up of receptor sites, namely CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are found on many different cell types throughout the body. Cannabinoids aren’t the only chemicals that affect these receptors. Endocannabinoids, cannabinoids created within the body, also activate these receptor sites and play an important role in human physiology in areas such as mood and appetite.

One of the bodily systems that the endocannabinoid system appears to influence is the endocrine system. A 2006 paper published within Endocrine Reviews states that CB1 receptors are expressed in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, with their activation known to modulate all of the endocrine hypothalamic-peripheral endocrine axes.

The presence of cannabinoid receptors within the endocrine system suggests that cannabinoids may have therapeutic potential when it comes to endocrine disorders.

THE ENDOCRINE SYSTEM

The endocrine system is comprised of glands that produce hormones within the body. Hormones are signalling molecules transported by the circulatory system that are capable of regulating physiology and behaviour.

The main components of the endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, adrenals, pancreas, and ovaries/testes. The hormones released by these glands include melatonin, testosterone, insulin, glucagon, epinephrine, and luteinising hormone. Such hormones help to regulate processes such as sleep, the fight or flight response, energy storage, and growth and development.

Endocrine Disorders

ENDOCRINE SYSTEM DISORDERS

Endocrine disorders can occur when the function of one or more endocrine glands is compromised, a phenomenon that can disrupt the balance of the entire system. If a particular gland produces too little or too much of a certain hormone, an endocrine disease can manifest. Endocrine disease can also arise when lesions, nodules, or tumours form on an endocrine gland and impact its function.

One of the most commonly diagnosed endocrine disorders is diabetes, a condition that arises when the pancreas does not produce sufficient levels of the hormone insulin. Another form of endocrine disorder is adrenal insufficiency, which occurs when the adrenal glands release too little cortisol and aldosterone, resulting in fatigue. Other types of endocrine disorder include Cushing’s disease, gigantism, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, hypopituitarism, and polycystic ovary syndrome.

CANNABINOIDS AND THE ENDOCRINE SYSTEM

Cannabinoids may have the potential to regulate the endocrine system and assist with cases of certain endocrine disorders. These compounds may be effective in treating endocrine disorders caused by the presence of tumours on certain endocrine glands. A 2008 paper published within the journal Endocrine-Related Cancer states that endocannabinoids are able to inhibit cell growth, invasion, and metastasis of thyroid, breast, and prostate tumours. Because cannabinoids such as THC also activate the same receptors due to similarity in molecular structure, they may be able to achieve similar effects.

Research has also shown the presence of cannabinoid receptors on nerves involved in the regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis. This region controls the production of hormones via the thyroid gland, suggesting that endocannabinoids and cannabinoids may have influence over hormone production. Research in this area is extremely preliminary, but it signals that cannabinoids may be able to influence the endocrine system.

Cannabinoids such as CBD may also be able to assist with the symptoms of endocrine disorders. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that exhibits numerous medicinal applications. Side effects of some endocrine disorders include anxiety and insomnia. CBD is well-known to reduce feelings of anxiety, as documented in human studies. The cannabinoid may also help with improving sleep patterns by decreasing anxiety and improving REM sleep.

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