Mitochondria and the Endocannabinoid System
Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell, the basic building blocks of living tissue. Every cell has one and it regulates and generates energy and power for as long as it is alive. In 2012, scientists in France found that there are cannabinoid receptors within the mitochondria. Their very presence in the cell was momentous, finding them in the mitochondria, even more so. It laid the groundwork into ongoing research in the role of the cannabinoid receptors in the cell and how it helps regulate mitochondrial activity; it is really critical in the way cells work.
Why it is important
Defects and malfunctions in the mitochondrial system and activity is directly linked, on a cellular level to a number of disorders that include neurodegenerative, metabolic, and autoimmune conditions. The list of these conditions includes diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, autism, schizophrenia, alzheimer’s, neuromuscular, and cardiovascular diseases, to name a few.
Apart from this study mentioned here, there has been a growing consensus in the scientific community about the usefulness of cannabidiol in combating the above mentioned diseases, but this finding makes it work not just on a symptomatic level. There have also been studies that show CBD and THC, the main components of cannabis, having an effect, either directly or indirectly on the mitochondria and the way it functions. Finding it embedded inside it will bring out a lot more answers by way of continued research.
What is the mitochondrion?
Evolutionary scientists have found that mitochondria were never originally a part of the cell. They apparently worked from outside, but over many millions of years, the cell engulfed it and made a part of itself. Instead of digesting and destroying the mitochondria like it should have, it formed what is called a symbiotic relationship with each other. Cells provided it with nutrition and in turn the mitochondria provided the cell with useable energy. It became a vital part of the cell’s function. They are now found in literally every living cell, including the ones that make up the human body. Depending on the location and the type of organism that is studied, the number of mitochondria can vary greatly. Every single human cell contains mitochondria with the exception of RBCs in the blood.
The main function, in scientific terms of the mitochondria is to take sugars and amino acids and then convert them into adenosine triphosphate, a form of energy that cells can actually use. The ATP is like a battery inside the cell. The process, on a cellular level is dangerous. Harvesting energy from high powered molecules needs to be done with finesse. Bursts of energy like what would happen when harvesting a sugar, for example, will destroy the cell, so the mitochondria have to harness, store, and discharge at a rate that is more suitable for the host cell. The entire process is called cellular respiration.
What is known so far
It seems that many of the functions that are undertaken by the mitochondria, its regular functions and biological pathways like oxidative stress, energy equilibrium, the release of neurotransmitters, are in a way controlled by both external and internal cannabinoids. The results, however, is not without its own fair share of uncertainty and contradictions, much like cannabis in real life outside the lab. Cannabinoids such as they are, are almost always, in some way or the other giving different, and sometimes opposite effects to different users and situation. It is true that people experience the effects of simply smoking CBD or even THC rich cannabis differently.
Simple questions are still being answered like why a small dose of cannabis can stimulate the user, but as the dosage becomes a strong relaxant and sedative. Or even how CBD and THC are able to manage and sometimes balance physiological excesses as well as deficiencies. Another interesting question that researchers are looking into is how cannabis is able to target cancer cells while leaving its surrounding healthy cells intact. Insight into the role of mitochondria and the effects of CBD on it is expected to reveal many of these perplexing mysteries.
Free radicals are formed as a byproduct of incomplete or unregulated cellular respiration. The process, as mentioned earlier is a dangerous one and at times, it is done improperly, releasing high energy, charged particles into the body. They are normally oxygen that are not stabilized and become super-oxides. When this interacts with other healthy cells, it causes oxidative stress. The free radicals thus formed are damaging to everything they come into contact with. That is why it is important to take antioxidants. Both CBD and THC are powerful antioxidants. Oxidative stress can lead to accelerated aging and even interacts with DNA, causing a number of cancers. While it seems dangerous, it is a natural part of the mitochondrial activity and stress is something that is natural by product. In fact, it is needed to sustain cellular function. It will, however, eventually cause the organism harm.
Cancer can be described as a mitochondrial malfunction. It is now known that these free radicals, when over produced in the body to an extent that it causes irreparable damage, is often egged on by unhealthy habits. As a rule of thumb- sugars feed cancer. Off the counter antioxidants are recommended to keep them at a controlled level where they are beneficial. CBD and THC are among the most potent antioxidants available in the natural world. Along with this, a healthy lifestyle, nutritious food, and regular exercise aid and accelerate mitochondrial regeneration and repair; reversing oxidative damage done to the cells. CBD oil truly relaxes you in more ways than one.
The government of the USA holds a patent on the neuroprotective and antioxidant properties of cannabis, filed in 1998. It is one of the biggest hypocrisies that this government has been committing, outlawing the use of cannabis based on claims that it has no medicinal value, but at the same time holding a patent that says it does. Spreading awareness and lobbying are the only ways to bring about fair treatment to cannabis in the USA.