What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system identified in 1992 by scientists exploring Tetrahydrocannabinol, a well-known cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are compounds found in the cannabis plant.
While experts are still in research mode, so far, we now know it plays a role in regulating a multitude of processes, including:
- reproduction and fertility
You may not know that the Endocannabinoid System exists and is active in your body EVEN IF you don’t use marijuana or CBD.
The Endocannabinoid System is made up of three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors, & enzymes.
Endocannabinoids are molecules made by your body. They’re similar to cannabinoids, but they’re produced by your body.
Experts have identified two key endocannabinoids so far:
These endocannabinoids help to keep internal functions running like a machine! Your body naturally produces these, when needed, making it hard to know precisely what levels are "normal" for each.
Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout your body. Endocannabinoids bind to these receptors to signal the endocannabinoid system needs to take action.
There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:
- CB1 receptors, (mostly in the central nervous system)
- CB2 receptors, (mostly in the peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells)
Endocannabinoids can bind to either the CB1 or CB2 receptor. These endocannabinoids binding to their receptors are thought to improve the way the body receives and reacts to different messages.
An example of this: Those endocannabinoids may bind to CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others could bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to indicate that the body is inflamed, a common sign of autoimmune disorders.
Enzymes break down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function.
There are two main enzymes responsible for this:
- fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA
- monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG
The truth is that the Endocannabinoid System is complex, and researchers are not yet fully sure how it works or all of its potential functions.
- learning and memory
- appetite and digestion
- chronic pain
- inflammation and other immune system responses
- motor control
- cardiovascular system function
- muscle formation
- bone remodeling and growth
- liver function
- reproductive system function
- skin and nerve function
These functions all contribute to homeostasis, which refers to stability of your internal environment.
Today, experts believe that maintaining this homeostasis is the primary role of the Endocannabinoid System.
The other major cannabinoid found in cannabis is cannabidiol (CBD). Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t make you “high” and typically doesn’t cause any negative effects.
Even now, researchers and health experts are not completely sure how CBD interacts with the Endocannabinoid System. But they do know that it doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors the way THC does.
Instead, many believe it works by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down. This allows them to have more of an effect on your body. Still, many others believe that CBD instead binds to a receptor that has yet to be discovered.
While the details of how it works are still not completely agreed upon, research suggests that CBD may be able to help with pain, nausea, & symptoms associated with multiple conditions.
The Endocannabinoid System seems to play an important role in maintaining internal processes stability. There’s still a lot experts don’t know, but there is promise in their findings. As experts develop a more complete understanding of the Endocannabinoid System, it could be important to treating several conditions.