Cannabinoids are powerful healing compounds found in cannabis that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and gut (1). Other receptors can be found in various organs, glands, and connective tissues. These compounds are the main way Omega-3 fatty acids fight excess inflammation.
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabis is the best-known source of cannabinoids. Other plants also contain cannabinoids and your body even has the ability to produce these compounds. The network of cannabinoid receptors and structures that help your body produce the compounds are called “the endocannabinoid system”.
The most well-known cannabis-derived cannabinoid is called THC. While it’s best known for its psychoactive properties, it’s also a potent anti-inflammatory compound. Then, in 1992, researchers discovered cannabinoids produced naturally in the body. These are called “endocannabinoids”. Cannabis alone contains nearly a hundred different cannabinoids.
A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explored the process by which the body produces endocannabinoids. They found that a series of chemical reactions convert omega-3 fatty acids into anti-inflammatory endocannabinoids that don’t produce a “high” like cannabis does (2).
These specific endocannabinoids are called Omega-3 endocannabinoid epoxides. Among other things, they also have a positive impact on blood vessel dilation and blood platelet aggregation (3).
How Cannabinoids Work
Cannabinoids bind to two types of cannabinoid receptors in the body. One is found predominantly in the nervous system and one is found in the immune system, explains Aditi Das, a University of Illinois professor of comparative biosciences and biochemistry, led the study.
The receptors in the immune system allow cannabinoids to support human immunity and help regulate disease-causing inflammation. However, it’s not yet fully understood how they interact within the body.
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“Some cannabinoids, such as THC in marijuana or endocannabinoids can bind to these receptors and elicit anti-inflammatory and anti-pain action,” explains Das.
“Our team discovered an enzymatic pathway that converts omega-3-derived endocannabinoids into more potent anti-inflammatory molecules that predominantly bind to the receptors found in the immune system,” Das said.
“This finding demonstrates how omega-3 fatty acids can produce some of the same medicinal qualities as marijuana, but without a psychotropic effect.”
What’s more, the study’s findings may “may aid in the development of therapeutics for neuroinflammatory and cerebrovascular diseases.” That’s because many chronic diseases are linked to inflammation, such as heart disease, dementia, and depression (4).