The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is recently discovered and is highly influential in the human body. The ECS controls many aspects of our daily functioning, such as moods or pain relief. Yet, few people have heard about it, which is surprising when considering that the ECS is responsible for regulating our bodies everyday functions.
“The ECS regulates and controls many vital bodily functions, such as learning and memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses, and eating. The ECS is currently at the center of renewed international research and drug development.”
As cannabis consumers, we are directly affected by the Endocannabinoid System in many ways. Let’s examine how this little-known system works and its importance to our health.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) refers to a group of neuromodulatory lipids and their receptors involved in various physiological processes, including appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory. The ECS is present throughout the body but is most concentrated in the brain and central nervous system.
Researchers believe the ECS plays a vital role in maintaining homeostasis (balance) within the body. An imbalance or dysfunction within the ECS can lead to various medical conditions such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain, addictions, epilepsy, cancer, and autoimmune disorders.
How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?
The ECS comprises two main types of molecules: endocannabinoids (ECs) and cannabinoid receptors (CRs). ECs are lipid-based chemicals our body produces (hence “endogenous”). The two best studied ECs are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These molecules typically bind with CB1 or CB2 receptors to produce their desired effect.
CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are mostly found in peripheral tissues and cells associated with immunity. Both receptors play an important role in regulating various physiological functions. For example, CB1 receptors are responsible for modulating mood, while CB2 receptors help to regulate pain perception. Some research suggests that when CBD binds with a receptor, it helps to increase its activity which could explain why CBD appears to have so many potential therapeutic benefits. However, more research needs to be done in this area to confirm these effects.
What is Cannabis’ Role In All This?
Cannabis contains over 120 known cannabinoids, including THC and CBD. These phytocannabinoids (meaning they are produced by plants) interact with our natural endocannabinoids to produce various effects within the body, such as relaxation or increased appetite. One reason cannabis is so controversial is that THC binds directly with CB1 receptors (this is why THC is considered psychoactive), while CBD does not appear to interact with either receptor directly. However, CBD does seem to indirectly influence both types of receptors by inhibiting their degradation process. This means that CBD can increase levels of endocannabinoids like anandamide which could help to explain its therapeutic potential. For example, one study found that CBD could reduce anxiety levels in those suffering from social anxiety disorder by increasing levels of anandamide in their brains. In other words, CBD appears to work indirectly with our natural endocannabinoids to produce its desired effects within the body rather than binding directly with cannabinoid receptors as THC does.
The endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in several critical bodily functions, including memory, mood, sleep, inflammation control, and appetite regulation. As cannabis consumers, we are directly affected by how well this system works since cannabinoids like THC and CBD interact with our natural endocannabinoids to produce various effects within the body. While more research needs to be done to understand this complex system’s ins and outs, what we know suggests that cannabinoids like CBD or THC may help improve our overall health by supporting balance within the body