Our bodies wouldn’t respond to CBD or THC in the same way if it didn’t have an endocannabinoid system. Find out what the endocannabinoid system is and why it’s important.
We consume hemp for the long list of benefits it provides. However, hemp wouldn’t have some of its therapeutic benefits if our bodies weren’t already equipped with a physiological system capable of interacting with hemp’s active cannabinoids, such as CBD.
Our endocannabinoid system (ECS) does exactly that. But, it isn’t present just to help us reap the many benefits of our favorite plant. The endocannabinoid system plays a salient role in our overall health and wellbeing because it regulates our body’s key physiological processes.
But, what exactly is the endocannabinoid system and how does it work?
Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System
Scientists discovered endocannabinoids in the 1990s and, during their pursuit of finding the metabolic pathways of endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids, scientists found a previously unknown molecular signaling system within the body that is important in regulating a long list of biological functions. They called this system the endocannabinoid system.
The ECS carries out multiple functions, but the goal is always to maintain biological harmony despite changes in the external environment. This means it creates homeostasis within the body.
When there is an imbalance, the body produces endocannabinoids that interact with our body’s cannabinoid receptors. This stimulates a chemical response that brings the body back to homeostasis. In some cases, though, there is what is known as Endocannabinoid Deficiency. This is when there is a deficiency is the ECS signaling.
This can be caused by several reasons: The body not producing enough endocannabinoids, the body not producing enough cannabinoid receptors, too many enzymes breaking down the cannabinoids, or external influences like medication that reduce ECS signaling.
By stimulating and supporting your endocannabinoid system with cannabinoids like CBD, you can find relief from a wide range of conditions and illnesses.
About the Endocannabinoid System
We know all animals, including both vertebrates and invertebrates, have an endocannabinoid system. We also know humans not only produce their own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, that interact with the endocannabinoid system, but that other compounds that interact with this system are found in a variety of plants and food beyond the Cannabis species.
As an internal system, the ECS is not an isolated structural system like the nervous system, but rather a set of receptors widely distributed throughout the body that are acted on by endocannabinoids.
The ECS has three components:
The two known receptors are called CB1 and CB2, although there may be others. Likewise, there are two thoroughly documented endocannabinoids: Anandamide and 2-AG.
The enzymes synthesize and break down the endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are synthesized by the body as needed.
What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?
The endocannabinoid system is the body’s main homeostatic regulatory system, constantly working to maintain a wide range of functions in homeostasis. Endocannabinoids work as neuromodulators, meaning they regulate a broad range of physiological processes from sleep to pain.
Some of the verified functions of the endocannabinoid system include:
The organs and cells of the immune system have an abundance of endocannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoid system is the main facilitator of immune system homeostasis. The ECS regulates cytokine production and prevents overactivity in the immune system.
Inflammation is a natural immune response, and it plays a big role in damage to the body (such as injury or infection). When this immune response is left unchecked, however, it can become chronic and lead to adverse health issues. By regulating immune response, the endocannabinoid system maintains a homeostatic inflammatory response throughout the body.
The endocannabinoid system impacts emotional regulation, including stress responses, in multiple ways. This includes the triggering of the physiological response to acute stress, as well as adaptation to chronic emotions, such as anxiety. This system also plays an important role in the formation of new memories and in how the brain imprints traumatic memories. Finally, the ECS broadly influences emotional response and behaviors by modulating the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin, as well as hormones like cortisol.
Within the central nervous system, the endocannabinoid system regulates the release of glutamate and GABA. Via a whole host of actions throughout the nervous system, the endocannabinoid system primarily influences communication between synapsis and affects biological functions that include: Learning and memory, anxiety and fear, eating and metabolism, reproduction, and growth and development.
The ECS also affects how the brain will respond to physical trauma and inflammation. Within the spinal cord, the endocannabinoid system promotes natural pain-relief and modulates pain signaling.
In the peripheral nervous system, where the CB2 receptors are abundant, the endocannabinoid system acts in the sympathetic nervous system to regulate functions of the reproductive, urinary, and digestive tracts.
The digestive system contains both CB1 and CB2 receptors that regulate and maintain gastrointestinal health. The endocannabinoid system regulates gut immunity, possibly by preventing the immune system from destroying all the healthy flora that is present, as well as through the previously mentioned cytokine signaling. The endocannabinoid system modulates the inflammatory response in the digestive system.
The endocannabinoid system modulates sleep-wake cycles. Research shows the ECS directly maintains and promotes the sleep state via complex cell signaling. The CB1 receptor of the ECS both induces sleep and promotes wakefulness.
Additionally, because the endocannabinoid system affects emotions, cognition, and consciousness in a variety of ways, the ECS seems to affect the content and intensity of dreams.
Balancing Your Endocannabinoid System
There are so many reasons for Endocannabinoid Deficiency, ranging from diet to stress to medications. Unfortunately, this means an imbalance within the ECS.
If you want to bring a healthy balance back to your endocannabinoid system, here are some natural ways to adjust your body’s endocannabinoid levels:
You know how people who work out say they experience a high? Well, new scientific evidence shows that the “runner’s high” commonly experienced by those who exercise is actually brought on by endocannabinoids. Exercising for at least an hour can raise the anandamide, or bliss molecule, levels in your blood. This causes the “runner’s high”, which can temporarily reduce pain and anxiety, as well as induce euphoria.
You don’t need to go all out and run a mile or anything. Even gardening has shown to have numerous benefits. But, regular exercise will help you stay at a healthy weight and manage stress, both of which will keep your endocannabinoid system balanced.
Phytocannabinoids can be found in a whole lot of foods, spices, and essential oils, including: Chocolate, black pepper, nutmeg, kava kava, truffles, hops, and ginger. Each phytocannabinoid interacts differently with the endocannabinoid system, so the best way to discover which of them best suit your needs is to experiment and try different ones.
While cannabidiol, or CBD, is also a phytocannabinoid, the way it affects the ECS is very different from other phytocannabinoids, like THC. Rather than stimulating the ECS (and potentially overstimulating it like THC can do), CBD modifies the CB1 receptors to make them harder to activate. Furthermore, CBD raises your natural levels of endocannabinoids by limiting their degradation and reuptake. CBD’s activity on the ECS, as well as its benefits on other systems – such as pain receptors – can have a balancing effect.