The endogenous cannabinoid system, or endocannabinoid system, was discovered a few decades ago by scientists who were studying the effects of the cannabis plant. The endocannabinoid system has been regarded as one of the most important physiologic systems in the body, and is involved in establishing, maintaining, and promoting human health.
Endocannabinoids (chemical compounds produced naturally by the body), and their receptors, are found all throughout the body in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the endocannabinoid system performs different tasks with the same goal of maintaining homeostasis (the bodies state of internal conditions).
Studies show that the endocannabinoid system provides the same positive physical and psychological effects as cannabis. These can include but are not limited to improving immune function, metabolism, mood, digestion, and pain tolerance.
To best understand the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, it is important to first understand homeostasis:
- Homeostasis is defined as “the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.” Conditions in the body need to be just right for our cells to maintain optimum performance. The body’s ECS is a vital molecular system for helping maintain homeostasis, and helps regulate body temperature, among other factors.
The endocannabinoid system can act as a bridge between our bodies and minds. By understanding this system, we are beginning to see a mechanism which explains how our different states of consciousness can promote health.
The ECS is made up of two key components and can be found in all vertebrate species. The two key components of the ECS are:
- Cannabinoid receptors: found on the surface of cells
- Endocannabinoids: small molecules that activate cannabinoid receptors
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that serve as the messengers of the endocannabinoid system. They promote homeostasis at every level of biological life, and interact with the body to influence functions such as movements, thoughts, and feelings. Although there are many different types of cannabinoids, they are often divided into two categories: endocannabinoids and exocannabinoids.
In addition to regulating our homeostasis, cannabinoids influence a person’s relationship with the external environment. Socially, the administration of cannabinoids can alter human behavior, often promoting sharing, humor, and creativity. By mediating neurogenesis (the active production of new neurons), neuronal plasticity, and learning, cannabinoids may positively influence a person’s ability to create and repair neural pathways in the brain.
Exocannabinoids, or exogenous cannabinoids, come from outside the body as a result of ingesting cannabis and other plants that contain them. The two most abundant types of cannabinoids found in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
The receivers of these chemical messages brought on by cannabinoids are called cannabinoid receptors.
Located on the surface of cells, cannabinoid receptors monitor conditions outside of our cells. When they receive notifications of changing conditions, they will transmit the information to the inside of the cells and activate the appropriate cellular responses.
They are present throughout the body, embedded in cell membranes, and are believed to be more plentiful than any other receptor system. Researchers have so far identified two cannabinoid receptors: CB1, predominantly present in the nervous system, connective tissues, gonads, glands and organs, and CB2, predominantly found in the immune system and its associated structures.
Due to being present mostly in the nervous system, CB1 receptors have an impact on behaviors that are influenced by the nervous system including memory, emotional processes, appetite regulation, and pain reduction.
CB2 receptors are mostly located outside the nervous system and are especially abundant in the immune system. When they are activated, they focus on reducing inflammation. Since inflammation is an immune response that plays a significant role in the development of health problems, these receptors can help prevent and fight many diseases and conditions.
Cannabinoid 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. After transmitting this information, the body starts the appropriate cellular response involving the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
According to researchers, THC has a high tendency of binding with CB1 receptors. This binding ability could be the cause for its psychoactive effects. In comparison to THC, CBD does not bind to cannabinoid receptors, but has an indirect effect on their activities.
The second key component of the ECS is endocannabinoids, which get their name directly from the cannabis plant. They could be considered the body’s natural THC. Here, we define their crucial regulation of the body’s systems:
How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?
As mentioned earlier, endocannabinoids are chemical compounds that are naturally produced by the body. To date, scientists have discovered two main types of endocannabinoids: anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG). These substances are made on-demand from fat-like molecules in cell membranes. This means they are produced and used only when they are needed, unlike other biological substances that are stored for later use. They have binding affinity to both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
Endocannabinoids are broken down by enzymes soon after they are produced. These enzymes include fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL). One of the important functions of CBD is that it can inhibit the activity of FAAH and slow down the degradation of endocannabinoids. When CBD is consumed, it strengthens and prolongs the positive effects of the endocannabinoid system.
Endocannabinoids originate from within the body and occur naturally. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are found at the intersection of the body’s various systems, allowing communication and coordination between different cell types. At the site of an injury, cannabinoids will decrease the release of activators from the injured tissue, stabilizing nerve cells and preventing excessive firing. This process calms neighboring immune cells and prevents the release of pro-inflammatory substances.
Endocannabinoids help maintain optimal balance in the body (homeostasis). When the ECS is disrupted, functions in the body (like metabolism, digestion, memory and mood) can fall out of balance.
Dysregulation in the ECS is thought to contribute to a wide variety of conditions, including fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Health Effects of the Endocannabinoid System
The diversity of receptor location shows how important endocannabinoids are for day-to-day bodily function. Research has found that a properly functioning endocannabinoid system can improve many functions of the human body, including:
- Immune Function
- Cardiovascular Function
- Pain Tolerance
- Inflammation Healing
- Neural Development
- Disease Prevention
- The Endocannabinoid System serves as a bridge between the body and the mind
- A properly functioning endocannabinoid system can improve many functions of the human body by encouraging homeostasis
- The two key components of the ECS are cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids
- A healthy endocannabinoid system is essential, it is important that we recognize how to maintain it.
Consuming CBD is one of the easiest and most effective ways to boost your endocannabinoid system function. To get the best results from CBD, it is essential that you pick the right products.