Every article or blog you read about CBD will eventually mention a little something called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), an often unheard-of system that leaves most people scratching their head. This intricate system that exists in all mammalian bodies was officially discovered in the early 1990’s and is seen as perhaps the most important part of CBD processing and the secret behind why CBD works.
This article will explore everything you need to know about the endocannabinoid system and CBD, including: a basic understanding of the endocannabinoid system, a brief history of the endocannabinoid system, what the endocannabinoid system does, the 3 parts of the endocannabinoid system, and an in-depth explanation of the endocannabinoid system and CBD’s interaction.
When was the Endocannabinoid system discovered?
The idea of the endocannabinoid system began to emerge in the late 1960’s when scientists were researching the effects of cannabis on the body.
Researchers at the time were isolating phytocannabinoids (plant cannabinoids) and studying their effects on humans. It was through this process that they began to discover that our bodies were already constructing their own unique set of cannabinoids: endocannabinoids (internal cannabinoids).
These researchers were primarily focused on how this discovery impacted humans, but theorized that it was likely that this same internal endocannabinoid system existed within all types of animals: mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles, too! Scientists eventually concluded that the endocannabinoid system began to develop close to 600 million years ago.
In 1992, a team of researchers at Hebrew University, led by Dr. Lumir Hanus and Dr. William Devane, confirmed the existence of the neurotransmitters we know today as endocannabinoids.
A Basic Understanding of the Endocannabinoid System
The first step to understanding the endocannabinoid system, is understanding the concept of homeostasis.
Homeostasis is a fundamental biological concept that can be compared to the old fable, Goldilocks, in which we’re shown that the best case scenario for everything always falls in the middle, away from extremes. Homeostasis is the concept that all of our biological systems are continuously regulating to stay within optimal levels (i.e. equilibrium). Our body's inherent ability to balance itself is what keeps things like body temperature and blood sugar just right.
Everything needs to be balanced for our bodies to maintain homeostasis and the ECS plays an important role in helping our bodies maintain the optimum conditions to do so.
For example, if you fall off a bike and sustain an open-wound injury, your body will be thrown out of homeostasis. This is when the ECS steps in to help return the body to balance. As shown in the diagram below, when your body is in homeostasis (the Goldilocks Zone), normal healthy immune cells patrol the body looking for potential threats as you ride your bike. When you fall off and sustain an injury, your immune cells notice the change (infection) and release molecules to defend the body, including back-up immune cells, pro-inflammatory cells, and endocannbinoid cells as a response.
What does the Endocannabinoid system do?
When discussing what the endocannabinoid system does during a lecture, Dr. William Sauvé answered simply, “everything”.
The endocannabinoid system plays an important role in helping to regulate a wide range of our body’s natural functions and processes, including: sleep, mood, appetite, reflexes, memory, and more.
The 3 Key Parts of The Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is able to function thanks in part to three key components:
- Endocannabinoids: the molecules that activate cannabinoid receptors.
- Cannabinoid Receptors: receptors found on the surface of cells throughout the body.
- Enzymes: enzymes that facilitate the breakdown of cannabinoids after they are used.
What often mystifies people is that their bodies already produce cannabinoids without them ever consuming a cannabis product like CBD oil or marijuana.
In fact, your body is home to endocannabinoids, that is, cannabinoids that are created by your body (also called endogenous cannabinoids). Scientists have identified 2 types that our bodies create: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). Our bodies produce them as needed and they assist in regulating our internal functions.
The cannabinoids that we consume and the endocannabinoids that our bodies produce need somewhere to go; that’s where cannabinoid receptors come in. Cannabinoid receptors are designed to bind to cannabinoid receptors and match up like a lock & key.
There are two major endocannabinoid receptors:
- CB1 Receptors: located in the central nervous system
- CB2 Receptors: located in the peripheral nervous system (including immune cells)
The enzymes within this system breakdown endocannabinoids after they’ve performed their necessary function.
There are two main enzymes:
- Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (breaks down AEA)
- Monoacylglycerol acid lipase (breaks down 2-AG)
The Endocannabinoid System and CBD: How do they interact?
The endocannabinoid system and CBD interact, but scientists are still putting all the pieces together to figure out exactly how.
Whereas most cannabinoids bind to our major cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, the phytocannabinoid CBD that we consume, doesn’t bind with either.
Scientists currently theorize that the benefit of externally consumed CBD (plant-grown CBD) is that it positively modifies our receptors ability to bind to cannabinoids, rather than binding to receptors itself. In modifying these receptors, CBD aids our bodies in regulating themselves and provides support system-wide.
Additionally, CBD is said to interact with the ECS by enhancing our natural levels of endocannabinoids, too!
How do we support our Endocannabinoid System?
The sad truth is, our endocannabinoid system can easily lose balance. But now that you know more about the endocannabinoid system and CBD, what actually contributes to a healthy endocannabinoid system?
The short answer is that the amount of stress you’re under, diet, and exercise all play key roles in how your endocannabinoid system will function.
Fortunately, the legalization of cannabis products has made it more convenient than ever to get your hands on phytocannabinoids, so that your endocannabinoid system and CBD can work hand in hand. Your typical full-spectrum hemp product is home to over 100+ phytocannabinoids, and every single one will react with your cannabinoid receptors in its own way.
However, remember that your endocannabinoid system and CBD will interact uniquely and no two people respond the same way to CBD. The best way to see how it makes you feel, is to try it for yourself.
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