Marijuana and the Endocrine System
Table of Contents
The use of Cannabis has always been a hotly debated topic with many deferring schools of thought. In this article, we will look at the relationship between marijuana and the endocrine system. To do so, we will describe the elements that make up the endocrine system and discuss what science has to say about how this system interacts with Cannabis.
Over the last few years, there have been numerous studies on how Cannabis operates within the body and how it affects certain functions in the body. Researchers have been actively involved in analysing and describing the positive and adverse effects of using Cannabis.
One of the most studied topics in recent times has been the relationship between marijuana and the endocrine system. The endocrine system plays an important role in the functioning of the human body. It is responsible for regulating a variety of physiological processes, such as sleep, growth, sexual maturation, and mood. How does this marijuana interact with the endocrine system?
What is the Endocrine System?
The endocrine system is a complex network of glands that work to produce chemicals in the body. These chemicals, known as hormones, trigger a series of reactions. Many of these reactions are responsible for activities that are essential for life and the proper functioning of the human body.
For example, hormones manage the digestive and reproductive systems, regulate sleep patterns, and control the production of immune cells. Hormones vary in function and impact different parts of the brain in different ways. There are several types of glands:
• Pineal body
In addition to these glands, some organs also secrete hormones. These organs are reproductive and release hormones that influence secondary sexual characteristics. In men, the testes are responsible for the production of male gametes. In females, the ovaries secrete hormones that regulate the release of the female egg.
Glands and their Hormones
To understand the role of glands and hormones, a knowledge of the relationship that exists between cannabis and the endocrine system is important. Below is an explanation of the types of glands found in the human body.
The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys. These small glands secrete epinephrine, which is also known as adrenaline. Adrenaline is popular referred to as the “fight or flight” chemical. It can affect the heart rate, dilate the pupils and induce sweating.
Adrenaline is also the site where corticosteroids, mineralocorticoids, and androgens are created and secreted. These chemicals are important in regulating blood pressure and levels of minerals such as salt and potassium.
Androgens are typically defined as male hormones. They increase testosterone and androstanediol levels. However, women’s adrenal glands also secrete these hormones, albeit in minute quantities.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits in the front of the neck and wraps around the larynx. It secretes three hormones – Triiodothyronine or T3, Triiodothyronine or T4, and calcitonin.
Iodine forms the basis for the chemicals T3 and T4. Thyroid hormones affect the body metabolic rate, bone growth, and brain development.
The pituitary gland is a small and pea-sized gland located in the brain. It is nestled between the hypothalamus and the pineal gland, behind the bridge of the nose. The pituitary gland is considered the “master gland” of the human body. This is due to its influence on a variety of reactions and activities within the body.
The pituitary gland oversees the secretion of hormones that regulate other hormone-producing glands. It also releases several other hormones that directly affect several critical body systems.
• Prolactin regulates the production of breast milk in women.
• Growth hormone (GH) affects the liver and fatty tissues, as well as the bones.
• Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH): regulates the hormones secreted by the thyroid.
• Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH): activates the adrenal glands.
• Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH): oversees the testes and ovaries in men and women.
• Luteinizing hormone (LH): Helps regulate the ovaries and testes. This hormone is critical for facilitating menstrual cycles in women.
The Pineal Body
The pineal gland is where melatonin is produced and released. Melatonin is the chemical that controls sleep patterns in humans. It also helps in building new bone.
The parathyroids are located in the neck near the thyroid glands. They produce a parathyroid hormone that controls the amount of calcium circulating in the blood. Calcium is known for the important role it plays in bone building and blood clotting.
Marijuana and the Endocrine System: How Are They Related?
Now that we have seen what glands and hormones are all about, let us now examine how cannabis and the endocrine system interact. Cannabis is derived from naturally occurring plants of the Cannabaceae family and contains hundreds of compounds. These compounds include cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD), flavonoids, and terpenes.
The compounds THC and CBD form the main cannabinoid chemicals in Cannabis. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, can affect the body significantly. THC works with the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the body’s endocannabinoid system which are found throughout the body.
While CB2 receptors are often found along the surface of immune cells within the peripheral nervous system, CB1 receptors are predominantly found in the central nervous system and also in adipose tissues. CB1 receptors are also present in many other organs that are directly associated with marijuana and the endocrine system.
THC and Receptors
Receptors act as chemical gateways to the brain and other systems in the body. They are often activated by the presence of messenger chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters give the brain critical signals it interprets and translates, which in turn creates responses ranging from an increase in temperature to an elevation of mood-stimulating compounds.
When the THC enters the body, it binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors. Many of these receptors are present in the endocrine glands and are crucial in the functioning of the endocannabinoid system or ECS.
The ECS secretes cannabinoids, or chemical compounds very similar to those in cannabis. Because THC binds to critical receptors within the endocannabinoid system, it can influence growth hormone (GH) secretion. It can also modify thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels and other chemicals throughout the body.
The Reproductive System
CB1 receptors are also present in the ovaries and testes. Because they are endocrine glands, when THC binds to CB1 receptors, it can affect the way embryos travel into the fallopian tubes, and can disrupt or inhibit signaling to the placenta.
In men, cannabinoids such as THC can affect gonadotropins such as LH and FSH. THC can also dramatically impact testosterone production in testicular cells. It can also affect the release of prolactin and adrenal cortical steroids in men.
There are concerns that the presence of cannabinoids in the blood may impair sperm quality and sperm count. There is currently no theory that shows a direct link between cannabinoids and sperm, so we should not be concerned about this issue.
While there may be an underlying mechanism of how cannabinoids influence sperm production and secretion, there is no concrete study to prove this. Further research is required to determine the role cannabinoids may play in male reproductive systems.
The Thyroid Gland
In the thyroid, cannabis-derived cannabinoids may affect thyroid hormone production. CB1 and CB2 receptors are present in the thyroid and cannabinoids significantly affect them. Experts have also linked CB1 and CB2 receptors to the development and growth of thyroid cells. According to research, CB2 receptor expression may be particularly useful in detecting the presence of cancer cells. A recent study in mice found that an abundance of CB2 receptors occurs when there are cancerous cells.
Cannabinoids may also have a significant anti-tumor effect. Activated CB2 receptors may help mitigate anaplastic thyroid cancers.
Other Interactions of Marijuana and the Endocrine System
Cannabinoids may amplify the effect of CB1 and CB2 receptors and may aid the regression of diseases such as Graves’ disease. Although the precise mechanisms remain unknown, the presence of cannabinoids has a positive effect on cytokine production. Cytokines are a group of chemicals in the body, such as interferon and interleukin, that influence immune cell responses.
It has also been discovered that CBD can lead to an increase in the cytokine interleukin 10 (IL-10). Interleukin-10 functions primarily as an anti-inflammatory agent. It also works with the body to decrease autoimmune diseases and the introduction of pathogens into the body.
Keep reading with Nettles for Marijuana: Everything You Need to Know and Understanding Cannabis at the cellular level.