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The Endocannabinoid System: A Guide To Better Understanding

endocannabinoid system

In the early 1990’s, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) was discovered by researchers who were exploring THC. The endocannabinod system is a complex cell-signaling system.

Did you know the ECS actually exists actively in our body even if we are not using cannabis? Wait a second. Really? But, the name has “cannabinoid” in it.

I know, crazy cool.

Below is a simple guide to understand the ECS a little better.

Regulating Functions / Processes

More research is needed surrounding the ECS, but experts have discovered it plays a role in regulating a range of functions and processes that include:

  • Sleep
  • Mood
  • Appetite
  • Memory
  • Reproduction and fertility
  • Mood
  • Learning and memory
  • Motor control
  • Cardiovascular system function
  • Muscle formation
  • Bone remodeling and growth
  • Liver function
  • Stress
  • Skin and nerve function

These functions and processes all contribute to homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to stability of our internal environment and getting back to it if/when needed. For example, if our body develops a fever, which then throws off the body’s homeostasis, our ECS kicks in to help our body return the ideal operation.

HOw Does It Work?

The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.

First, endocannabinoids, also known as endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules made by our bodies.  They are similar to cannabinoids but are produced by our body. Experts have identified the two key endocannabinoids as anandamide (AE) and  2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). These both help keep internal functions running smoothly. Our body produces them as needed which can make it more difficult to know what the typical levels are for each.

Second, receptors are found throughout our body. Endocannabinoids bind to the receptors to signal that the ECS needs to get to work. There are two main endocannabinoid receptors. CB1 receptors are mainly found in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors are mainly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells. Endocannabinoids can bind to either of these receptors. The effects of this action are determined by where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to. For example, endocannabinoids might target the CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. They also might bind to a CB2 receptor in our immune cells to signal that our body is experiencing inflammation.

Third, the enzymes job is for breaking down the endocannabinoids once they’ve completed their function. There are two main enzymes responsible for this; fatty acid amide hydrolase which breaks down AEA and monoacylglycerol acid lipase which typically breaks down 2-AG (Healthline).

THC AND CBD Interactions

Once THC enters your body it will interact with your ECS by binding to the receptors, same as endocannabinoids.

This is so powerful because it can bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. When this takes place, it allows a range of effects to take place on our body and minds. As we know, THC may help with reducing pain and increasing our appetites and/or can also cause some anxiety or paranoia.

In terms of CBD, experts are unaware of how it interacts with the ECS. They do know that it does not bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors in the same way as THC does. Some experts believe that it works by preventing the endocannabinoids from being broken down; allowing more of an effect on our bodies.

Others believe that CBD binds to an unknown receptor that has not been discovered yet. Even though these details are still unknown, we do know that research suggests CBD may help with pain, nausea and other symptoms associated to health conditions.

Closing Thougts

The ECS plays such a big role in our bodies, whether we are consuming cannabis or not. There is still so much that we do not know yet and thankfully experts will continue on with their research. It is kind of amazing to think that they could potentially discover ways to treat several health conditions. To learn more about the endocannabinoid system, click here.

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