Since the mid-90s, government funded studies have shown that our brains have receptors that respond to cannabis. For experimenting teens in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s, this wasn’t news. Thanks to the endocannabinoid system within us all, cannabis is able to stimulate a complex network of receptors in a way that is shaking up the healthcare industry—and the global political system.
But how does the endocannabinoid system work? And more importantly, how is it leading the way in natural wellbeing and healthcare in 2020?
What Is The Endocannabinoid System and what exactly does it do?
The Endocannabinoid system was discovered in 1995 during THC trials. A research team—led by Dr. Linda Matsuda—discovered a complex network of endocannabinoid receptors. They named the receptors CB-1. They also mapped the DNA of the receptor, and cloned it, eventually leading to the discovery of a secondary receptor. This was named CB-2.
It also raised an interesting question in the global research community: If we create cannabinoid receptors, where are the cannabinoids that bind with them?
We produce serotonin—the cuddle hormone—to bind with serotonin receptors. We produce dopamine—the happy hormone—to bind with dopamine receptors and support our executive functions. So it made sense we must be producing cannabinoids.
Our questions were answered. Anandamide was discovered—a naturally-occurring, cannabinoid chemical produced by the body to modulate the central nervous system.
And so began science’s deep dive into the mysteries of the ECS
1. What makes up the Endocannabinoid System?
As a quick rundown, the ECS is made up of three components.
These are the fatty molecules that bind to our endocannabinoid receptors, like a biological yin and yang. As a result, scientists discovered 2-AG as another endocannabinoid produced by our bodies.
Researchers have pinned down two receptors: CB-1 and CB-2.
CB-1 can be found in the brain and spinal cord. These receptors relate to our central nervous system.
CB-2 can be found in our peripheral nervous, immune, and digestive systems.
Our digestive, reproductive, and nervous systems dominate the limelight in terms of our biological functions. Interestingly, though, the endocannabinoid system is shown to have more receptors in the body than all the other neuromodulatory receptors combined.
Enzymes are the final piece of the ECS puzzle.
The enzymes are our internal safety switch. They break down endocannabinoids once they’ve done their job. Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH) breaks down anandamide, and Monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) targets 2-AG in the same way.
Essentially, the endocannabinoid process is simple:
When you have a problem, the ECS is activated to deal with the problem—inflammation in your ankle from a sports injury, for example—and it regulates the immune system to reduce swelling. Because it’s so finely tuned, it knows not to mess with your digestive or cardiovascular systems.
Once its mission has been completed, enzymes are released to neutralize the active endocannabinoids. Everything goes back to normal—homeostasis, if we want to be fancy.
2. What is the function of the ECS?
The primary function of the endocannabinoid system is homeostasis—balance.
Blood sugar levels, body temperature, heart rate, hunger, hormone levels—these are just a handful of the systems within the body that require a narrow range of conditions to function at peak performance. The endocannabinoid system helps regulate all of these.
In simple terms, the ECS keeps our bodies in the Goldilocks zone, where everything is “just right.”
Just like your phone has a bunch of systems running to keep you browsing Facebook and Instagram in peace, your endocannabinoid system is working like an internal operating system for your body.
3. What parts of the human body does the ECS affect?
The endocannabinoid system plays a significant role in all areas of our health, wellbeing, and longevity. Areas that “can” be impacted by the ECS are:
Fertility and the reproductive system
Skin growth and healing
Digestive organ health
Cardiovascular system processes
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4. What is Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (and does it matter)?
Any network can run into issues—especially one as complex as the endocannabinoid system.
Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) occurs when lower-than-normal endocannabinoid levels are present within our bodies. These can contribute to a progression in migraines, IBS, and fibromyalgia. Low endocannabinoid levels cause cell-confusion, too. Research has demonstrated on several levels that this level of dysfunction also causes sleeplessness, and lowered mental and physical performance.
Many reputable scientists and experts in the field of endocannabinoid deficiency theorize that introducing cannabinoids—like those found in cannabis, for example—can aid in correcting dysfunction and rebalancing our bodies.
5. Cannabis, Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
There are more than 100 plant cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. The most commonly known are cannabidiol—or CBD, for short—and tetrahydrocannabinol—the most famous compound: THC.
Each cannabinoid has its own unique properties and internal makeup. The two most common—CBD and THC—are those which researchers have so far shown to have the most medically potential.
Both CBD and THC may have therapeutic benefits, although only THC gives users the glorious high synonymous with cannabis. This is because—even though they come from the same plant—each cannabinoid acts on our receptors differently.
CBD, without the mesmerizing qualities of THC, is an appealing treatment option for exactly that reason.
High quality CBD products, bought from a reputable distributor, offer high potency, controlled effects, and a commitment to safety. And they all come with the added piece of mind of being non-psychoactive. Although CBD and THC products are not necessarily better or worse than other products, it is important to maintain the strict guidelines around selling to minors.
There may still be a long way to go before we understand the intricacies of the endocannabinoid system. In the meantime, though, we can keep our brains busy by using the information we’ve got to make informed choices about our own health and wellbeing.
We know the ECS is a vital molecular system that is saving our bodies, one cell at a time.
We know that a deeper understanding of our endocannabinoid system can help us develop consistent, successful processes to achieve our goals.
Finally, we know that how we influence the ECS—specifically through the use of CBD and THC compounds—unlocks the door to health and wellbeing.
Armed with this kind of knowledge, why weren’t we making these moves sooner?