What Is The Endocannabinoid System?

The discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the late 1980s fundamentally changed the potential medical possibilities of CBD.

And yet, decades later, many people still haven’t heard of the ECS – and even fewer are aware of its importance.

We’ve got all the information you need about the ECS: what it is, what it does, and how CBD interacts with it.

What Is The Endocannabinoid System?

Firstly, what are cannabinoids?

Simply put, cannabinoids are compounds found in the cannabis and hemp plants.

The most well-known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), but they are just two of over 100 that have been discovered.

Different cannabinoids have varying effects on the human body, and they interact with the ECS in different ways.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

The ECS is a physiological system that forms a critical part of homeostasis; this is the human body’s way of regulating itself and keeping everything in balance.

Three main components make up the ECS:

  • Endocannabinoids: These are endogenous cannabinoids, meaning that our bodies naturally produce them.
  • Cannabinoid Receptors: These are found throughout our bodies, the principal two being the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
  • Enzymes: These breakdown endocannabinoids after they’ve done their job.

Sleep, memory, appetite, digestion, temperature, inflammation, and mood are just some of the bodily functions that the ECS helps to balance.

How does the endocannabinoid system work?

Our bodies produce endocannabinoids as and when we need them for regulating one of our bodily functions.

These endocannabinoids then bind to either the CB1 or CB2 receptors depending on what they need to do.

The CB1 receptors are located in the central nervous system, primarily in the brain and spinal cord. Our endocannabinoids will bind to these in order to increase our appetite, relieve pain, or reduce stress.

The CB2 receptors are located in the peripheral nervous system, which extends throughout the body. Our endocannabinoids will target these to regulate inflammation and immune response.

Cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system: CBD vs. THC

As we mentioned earlier, not all cannabinoids interact with the ECS in the same way; they target different receptors and exhibit varying effects.

THC is the psychoactive compound found in cannabis, and it works by binding to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors; this is one of the reasons its effects are so strong.

Targeting both cannabinoid receptors can lead to a diverse range of effects including an increased appetite and lowered pain perception.

However, this is also what gives THC its distinctive psychotropic influence, and it can have adverse side effects including anxiety, memory loss, and paranoia.

Researchers are still exploring CBD’s relationship to the ECS, but we do know that it interacts in a very different way to THC.

One way that CBD does interact with the ECS is by preventing certain endocannabinoids from breaking down. This allows them to have a greater impact on our bodies.

This may be the reason why CBD has can reduce anxiety, aid sleep, and target inflammation – among other benefits.

Endocannabinoid deficiency

Research has suggested that many of us may have “endocannabinoid deficiency” due to our bodies producing insufficient endocannabinoids, or problems with our cannabinoid receptors.

This deficiency may be affecting our ability to regulate our physiological systems. A 2004 study also suggests that it may lead to conditions including migraines, fibromyalgia (chronic pain), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The proven ability of CBD to prevent the breakdown of specific endocannabinoids means that it could be a treatment for endocannabinoid deficiency.

The endocannabinoid system: In summary

Though still not widely known, the ECS may well be one of the most critical biological systems in the human body.

More research is needed in order to fully understand how it works, but early evidence shows that CBD could aid the ECS in maintaining many of our key bodily functions. If you’d like to learn more about what CBD could do for you, check out our blog.

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