Endocannabinoid System – Endocannabinoid System 101

Medical review by K9 Healthcare Council of America (K9HCA). Intended for educational purposes only. Always seek medical advice from your veterinarian.

Endocannabinoid System

There’s been an explosion of interest in Cannabidiol (CBD) in recent years as pet parents everywhere are beginning to discover the infinite health benefits afforded by daily supplementation of CBD for their aging pets.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about CBD is the sheer number and variety of its potential therapeutic applications to provide better comfort and care for our canine companions.

But how can CBD from hemp impact so many different, seemingly unrelated, biological pathways to improve the health of your dog?

What Is The Endocannabinoid System?

While more refined research into the specific metabolic actions of CBD is still warranted, what is currently known is that CBD works well for such a wide variety of canine diseases and health challenges because it contributes both directly & indirectly to the functional activity of the canine Endocannabinoid System (ECS). 

Understanding the Endocannabinoid System in Dogs

The key to understanding the benefits of cannabinoid therapy for dogs is to first review the components of the ECS in canines.

The canine Endocannabinoid System is composed of three key components–each providing insight into how the introduction of CBD can help alleviate pain and inflammation, reduce tumors, control epileptic seizure activity & provide more comfort and a healthier disposition for older, aging dogs.

The canine Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is composed of cannabinoid receptors, their endogenous ligands, and the enzymes involved in endocannabinoid turnover between cells.

Endocannabinoid System 101

To understand how cannabinoids can provide such a wide range of benefits to your pet (from behavioral and anxiety disorders to nerve pain attenuation and even cancer tumor treatment) it is necessary to first review the basic biological functions that underlie the Endocannabinoid System’s primary role in maintaining homeostasis.

Homeostasis is a state of equilibrium–more specifically, it’s the way in which your dog’s body functions to ensure his internal systems are regulated properly to maintain a balanced, healthy state even during times of stress, illness or injury.

A good example to describe this balanced state is inflammation–by itself inflammation is a necessary process to heal an injury; but when the system produces too much inflammation, then this can lead to further tissue damage; but insufficient inflammation can impair or even inhibit the normal healing process.

The canine ECS acts as a critical internal monitoring system that can make adjustments and correct imbalances to ensure appropriate levels of inflammation are closely monitored and maintained–all performed on ‘auto-pilot’.

In its most basic form, the endocannabinoid system is the ‘endogenous homeostatic mechanism’ that helps your dog adapt to everyday biological stresses that, if left unchecked, can lead to pain, discomfort and long-term chronic disease.

Endocannabinoid System Discovery

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) within your dog’s body regulates proper functioning of cells, organs and entire systems, but its most important role is that it acts as the Master Control Center for many of the life-sustaining processes that go on every day without you (or your dog) being aware.

Endocannabinoid system
The canine ECS acts as a critical internal monitoring system that can make adjustments and correct imbalances to keep your dog healthy.

Twenty-eight years after discovering THC in 1964, medical researchers identified the brain’s first “endogenous-cannabinoid” or endocannabinoid, along with their related receptor sites.

The identification of cannabinoid receptors found on the surface of human cells triggered an exponential growth of studies exploring the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and its impact on the health of dogs. The canine ECS has since been implicated in a growing number of physiological functions, both in the central and peripheral nervous systems and peripheral organs.

The initial presence of cannabinoid receptors in the canine Central Nervous System (CNS) was first reported by Herke ham who used autoradiographic studies to identify the distribution of CB1 receptors in specific parts of the canine brain.

These early studies identified physical structures in specific areas of the brain that respond to endocannabinoids either produced naturally by the body or taken in from external sources.

Canine Endocannabinoid System Infographic. CBD receptors in dogs
Endocannabinoid System 101 Diagram: Primary types of Cannabidiol (CBD) receptor sites found in dogs are CB1 & CB2.

The crucial role the ECS plays in maintaining homeostasis is not limited to dogs–a closer look into the wizardry behind the ECS as an essential instrument in regulating canine health reveals it’s widespread distribution throughout the animal kingdom.

By comparing the genetics of cannabinoid receptors in different species, scientists estimate that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) evolved in primitive animals over 600 million years ago.

The action of CBD is subtle, like a whisper--but it carries within it millions of years of potent evolutionary intelligence. Click To Tweet

Endocannabinoid System Function

The ECS controls everything from relaxation, to eating, sleeping, inflammation and even cognitive function. In a nutshell, your dog’s Endocannabinoid System is responsible for making sure the entire body is working optimally to balance and maintain homeostasis within a narrow range.

Conditions need to be just right for cells to maintain optimum performance and the exquisite mechanisms of the canine ECS have evolved to make adjustments to draw them back to the pre-set zone if they move out of closely defined parameters.

What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?

ECS Provides Homeostasis in The Following Critical Systems & Processes:

  • Neuroprotection of nerves & nervous system
  • Modulation of immune system
  • Regulation of pain (local and systemic)
  • Tumor surveillance / protection against cancer
  • Modulate seizure threshold,
  • Regulate Metabolism (nutrient transport, lipid storage, energy metabolism)
  • Controls appetite & digestion
  • Bone remodeling
  • Reproduction / fertility
  • Regulate endocrine function (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis).

The Importance of Phyto cannabinoids In Canine Health

It’s important to note that the canine Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is just one of many regulatory systems in the canine body–but research is proving it to bare profound significance in overall maintenance of optimal health as well as rehabilitate dysfunction and forestall disease processes in our family pets.

CBD oil for dogs. Cannabis for dogs. Hemp CBD oil.
By supporting your dogs’ Endocannabinoid System (ECS) with daily CBD from hemp oil you’re supporting the fundamental biology of health & well-being.

At those times when there’s an imbalance in a dog’s physiology, the ECS triggers the release of enzymes that synthesize endocannabinoids. The primary synthesized endocannabinoids are Anandamide (from the Sanskrit word ‘Ananda,’ which means ‘eternal bliss’ or ‘supreme joy), and 2-arachidonoylglycerol. These endocannabinoids interact with Cannabinoid Receptors, which are present in the brain cells and also in the cells throughout the dog’s body and extremities.

Unlike all other known receptor systems, biological information via the ECS flows backwards, or “upstream,” in contrast to traditional neural pathways – a process known as retrograde transmission. This is one of the ways that the ECS protects the nervous system from hyperactivity during seizures.

As these Cannabinoid Receptors are ‘activated’, they direct the passage of neurotransmitters through to other cells. This process further sends chemical messages to the nerve cells calling out for required adjustments.

Eventually, this internal feedback system promotes a biochemical response where the “imbalanced function” is brought back to its normal stance.

In everyday situations, the endocannabinoid system’s function is believed to help mediate emotions of happiness & joy, consolidate memories, and coordinate important inflammation and regulate immune system allergy responses.

Many endurance runners have experienced a ‘natural high’ because of the actions of the Endocannabinoid System on the brain. Vigorous exercise stimulates the release of anandamide and with it the sense of euphoric well-being referred to as a ‘runner’s high’–all due to elevated levels of endocannabinoids.

Dog pain relief
Knowing the location of Cannabinoid receptors (CB1 in brain & CB2 in periphery) can give you an idea about the potential targets for treatment of certain canine conditions.

The canine Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a vital molecular communication system of receptors, enzymes and endogenous ligands set up to help maintain vital internal stability and equilibrium by leveraging “tools” in the form of nutrients and compounds found in their diet or through supplementation of Phyto cannabinoids in the form of CBD.

Phyto cannabinoids are specialized plant-based nutrients that promote homeostasis at every level of biological life; from the sub-cellular, to whole body systems and organs–And CBD works as a switch to regulate these essential physiological systems in a very refined biological range.

Phyto cannabinoids from full spectrum CBD-rich hemp can support the optimal functioning of your dog’s Endocannabinoid System to keep them happy and healthy.

Endocannabinoid System Definition:

Three Key Components of The Endocannabinoid System.

Signaling Molecules — Neuromodulators (endocannabinoids) help control the number of neurotransmitters that are released and determines how active cells are in communicating to one another.

Cannabinoid Receptors — G protein coupled receptors known as Cannabinoid1 (CB1) & Cannabinoid2 (CB2), which induce a response when triggered.

Regulatory Enzymes — Synthesize & catabolize endocannabinoids (making them and breaking them down).

Endocannabinoid system.
The ECS works in virtually every organ in the canine body: preserving nerves (neuroprotection), guarding healthy cells against injury (cytoprotecting), modulating their immune system, and blocking the development of certain types of cancer.

Cannabinoid Receptors

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is comprised of two major types of cellular receptors; CB1 and CB2, each serving a distinct function in canine health. Cannabinoid receptors are present throughout the dog’s body, embedded in cell membranes, and are believed to be more numerous than any other receptor system.

CBD receptors sit on the surface of cells and “listen” to conditions outside the cell. They transmit information about changing conditions to the inside of the cell, kick-starting the appropriate cellular responses. Since endocannabinoids are involved in immunomodulation, neuroprotection and control of inflammation in the central nervous system (CNS), modulating the activity of the dog ECS through the application of Phyto cannabinoids may influence a variety of physiological and pathological processes effecting canines as they age.

A growing body of evidence indicates that activation of cannabinoid receptors by endogenous, plant-derived, or synthetic cannabinoids may exert beneficial effects on gastrointestinal inflammation and visceral pain.

Cannabinoid Receptors.
Knowing the location of specific types of cannabinoid receptors can give you an idea about the potential target for CBD therapy for conditions related to anxiety & seizures (CB1 receptors) or immune system, inflammation and pain (CB2 receptors).

CB1 Receptor

Primarily found in the brain and Central Nervous System (CNS) and to a lesser extent in other tissues. In dogs, CB1 receptors have been found to be localized primarily in the brain, as with humans, but researchers have also found them in the liver, salivary glands, immune cells and hair follicles (Mercati, 2012) where they modulate neurotransmitter release.

The CB1 receptors are expressed in high abundance in the brain’s hippocampus and associated cortical regions, the cerebellum, and the basal ganglia and appears to be responsible for the mood-enhancing effects of Cannabis. This widespread distribution in the brain matches well with the known pharmacodynamic, psychotropic effects of THC (delta-9-tetrahydocannabinol) in Cannabis.

In contrast, CB1 receptor binding is sparse or totally absent from the brain stem, medulla, and thalamus–regions of the brain that control breathing and heart rate. The absence of CB1 receptors in these areas helps explain the absence of life-threatening effects on vital physiological functions usually associated with overdosing from Opioids and prescription medications.

Cannabinoid Receptor 2

CB2 receptors in dogs have been found mostly in the peripheral organs, especially cells associated with the immune system and gut but can also be found in other tissues and organs such as liver and kidney as well as skin cells.

Although CB1 and CB2 receptors share considerable structural similarities, their distribution and activity diverge. Among other actions, including pain modulation, CB2 receptors are thought to serve an important role in immune function and inflammation. There is ample evidence that CB2 receptor activation reduces nociception (pain perception).

Increased activation of cannabinoid type 2 receptors is known to diminish the release of pro-inflammatory factors and enhance the secretion of anti-inflammatory cytokines. While CB1 receptors are expressed mostly on neurons and mediate the inhibition of neurotransmitter release, CB2 receptors are highly expressed on immune cells (B-cells, T-cells & macrophages) modulating cytokine release thereby decreasing antigen presentation and modulating cell migration.

As a result, many of the medicinal properties of cannabinoid compounds have been attributed to the CB2 receptor, especially those related to chronic inflammation, pain & immune system modulation.

The key point is that differential binding of CB1 or CB2 receptors by endocannabinoids leads to varied physiological effects mediated via several neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine, glutamate, and dopamine.

In total, each of these biological actions is intended to optimize homeostasis.

Knowing the location of these CBD receptors in your dog can give you an idea about the potential targets for treatment for certain conditions. For example, brain and CNS receptors (CB1) impact sleep, eating & anxiety behaviors; while immune system, pain and inflammatory response are mediated primarily by CB2 type receptors.

Can Dogs Have Endocannabinoid System Deficiency?

So, it’s easy to see that by regulating your dog’s homeostasis through a finely tuned Endocannabinoid System (ECS) with cannabinoid therapy you are establishing the critical foundation for maintaining your dog’s health and potentially avoiding more serious medical conditions.

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The new field of scientific discovery into how the ECS functions will change veterinary medicine forever and prove CBD the gold standard for treating many canine disease processes.

Endocannabinoid System CBD – The Evolution of Canine Cannabinoid Therapy

Dogs are subject to the same toxins and chemicals that we humans are exposed to–But dogs age much faster!

Canines experience earlier onset of changes in their metabolism, their bone & joint structure and even memory and alertness that cause discomfort and pain.

As our knowledge of the 600-million-year-old Endocannabinoid System expands, it’s becoming clearer how this Master Control Switch effects virtually all canine physiology. This new field of scientific study will change veterinary medicine forever and offer pet parents a natural means to care for their canine companions.

Although CBD is not a medication to “treat” a specific ailment or disease, so to speak. It is, however, the very thing that straightens out the diversion of healthy function and rights the neurological and immunological pathways. CBD’s ability to interact with multiple organ systems at a cellular level, combined with its remarkable safety profile and extremely low toxicity, signifies a very bright future for its daily use in natural wellness and holistic pet care.

By supporting your dogs’ Endocannabinoid System (ECS) with daily CBD supplementation you’re supporting the fundamental biology of well-being.

Dogs are meant to be active, dynamic beings and by recognizing the critical function the Endocannabinoid System has on your dog’s health can help them be the best version of themselves, today — And for the foreseeable future.

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