Overview Of The Endocannabinoid System
If you have browsed through the internet looking into CBD and the reasons why you should be taking it, then I can guarantee you have come across this term: The ECS.
You see articles or callbacks to the ECS constantly and us writers write about ECS constantly because it is paramount in explaining how these hemp-derived products can affect our bodies.
The ECS and its relation to endocannabinoids is one of the definitive answers researchers know in the field of hemp-derived products.
Although, most of these definitive facts are centered around THC and how it affects the ECS.
So, what is your ECS and why is it so important for your health? What does ECS even mean?
How do CBD and other cannabinoid products play a role with your ECS? Ultimately, what can you gain by using cannabinoid-based products daily?
What Is The Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system, the ECS -or sometimes referred to as the endogenous cannabinoid system- is made up of three key components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Endocannabinoids are lipid-based substances that serve as ligands, which are biological molecules made to bind with proteins in order to send out a signal.
These protein receptors are called CB1 and CB2, they act as the information center for the ECS. Finally, the enzymes come in and clean it all up, breaking down what is left over.
Of course, we will cover each of these three components separately and in greater detail in this article - feel free to jump ahead, you won’t offend me.
As you can see, our ECS is a complex system. It is responsible for maintaining a wide array of functions in your body, such as: sleep, appetite, and mood.
We will often refer to these functions as maintaining your body’s homeostasis -another key word in CBD research.
In terms of scientific discoveries, the ECS is still relatively new to us. It was first identified in the early 90’s by Dr. Linda Matsuda was the first to map out cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which we call CB1.
The other known receptor, called CB2, was soon discovered not long after by Dr. Lumir Hanus and Dr. William Devane at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
These two breakthroughs lead to the discovery of endocannabinoids, which are naturally occurring neurotransmitters; they are very similar to the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
And cannabis is what made these scientific breakthroughs possible. These researchers were studying THC and the effects of that compound on the human body.
THC is the common abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol, which is arguably the most well known of the cannabinoid family; cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant.
If you are not aware, THC is the cannabinoid that is responsible for producing the ‘high’ effect people feel when consuming cannabis-based products.
It is also worth noting that not all cannabis-based products contain THC.
Important note: If you are looking to avoid that cannabinoid entirely, then you need to focus on broad spectrum products.
What are CB1 and CB2 Receptors?
There are two main endocannabinoid receptors in the human body: Cannabinoid receptor type 1 and cannabinoid receptor type 2.
Both are categorized as G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) and are found facing outwards on cell membranes, the wall of the cell. CPCRs are the largest and most diverse group of membrane receptors in our body.
Basically, they act as messengers, sending out important signals after they have been triggered by an agonist.
An agonist is a biological chemical made to trigger these receptors, in this case naturally occurring endocannabinoids or external cannabinoids.
CB1 receptors can be found in the central nervous system, gonads, glands, and most major organs. While, CB2 receptors are typically found in the peripheral nervous system and in immune cells.
The two endocannabinoids that our body produces to bind with these receptors are: Anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).
I will not go into the details of what those names mean, because that is a rabbithole we don’t need to enter.
These organic endocannabinoids are able to bind with either the CB1 or CB2 receptors, but the resulting effect depends on which one they bind with and where.
Here is the best explanation on what that means exactly:
“Endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others might bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body’s experiencing inflammation, a common sign of autoimmune disorders”
And here is another example of their effectiveness:
“At the site of an injury, for example, cannabinoids can be found decreasing the release of activators and sensitizers from the injured tissue, stabilizing the nerve cell to prevent excessive firing, and calming nearby immune cells to prevent release of pro-inflammatory substances.”
Once the endocannabinoids have served their purpose, which would be carrying out their function of triggering CB1 or CB2 receptors, they begin to be broken down by enzymes.
AEA, anandamide, is broken down by fatty acid amide hydrolase and 2-AG, 2-arachidonoylglycerol, is broken down by monoacylglycerol acid lipase.
Why not bring some more scientific names into the mix, right?
How Does The ECS Help My Daily Life?
If you were not yet aware, the endocannabinoid system is an essential component to life. And that is an understatement, the ECS is the unsung hero of the human body.
Many of us, myself included at one point, are not even aware of this complex system inside us.
Scientists are still finding new roles that the ECS plays in our bodies, the changes it can make for our lives. It is no coincidence that the ECS is a system found in all life on Earth – plants and animals alike.
FYI: plants will use the ECS to protect their leaves and flowering structures from dangerous UV lights.
Was that last part important for me to know? Other than nailing a question from the science category on trivia night impressing all of your friends and co-workers, no.
We mentioned earlier how the endocannabinoid system controls homeostasis, but what does that mean?
Well, homeostasis is how you process internal changes. It is your body’s way of naturally responding to the environment you are in.
For example, if you have a fever your homeostasis will be out of balance. This is where the ECS comes into play; it will send cellular signals throughout your body to restore order.
Thus, achieving internal stability or homeostasis. Think of it this way: to keep a healthy homeostasis is to keep a healthy life.
Or, read what Dr. Dustin Sulak had to say about the important of our ECS:
“The endocannabinoid system with its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and all of the body’s organs, is a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system, we begin to see a mechanism that explains how states of consciousness can promote health or disease”.
Now, that is more of a theory, or his own personal belief, rather than factual scientific data, but he still makes for a compelling argument.
Healthy mind, healthy life. He claims that our mind affects our mood, in turn affecting how we feel, which could advance an illness or promote your healthy being.
Again, this is just the opinion of one doctor who firmly believes in mind over matter.
How Do Hemp-Derived Products Affect The ECS?
Ok, that was a lot just to say that hemp-based products work by providing external cannabinoids that can trigger these receptors to call the ECS into action.
Yeah, that basically summed up the whole section above without diving into any specific scientific jargon. So yes, even external cannabinoids can bind with CB1 or CB2 receptors.
Your body will still know to send out the necessary signals that will in turn help maintain a healthy homeostasis.
And now it is time to be honest. Experts do not fully understand how CBD interacts with the ECS.
Let me clarify, I am not grouping all cannabinoids into the term ‘CBD’. Researchers have not yet found a definitive answer to what cannabigerol does to our ECS.
However, they concluded that it does not bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors in the same way that THC does.
These researchers do fully understand how THC can affect our receptors, so they are applying that same knowledge to CBD. A little, what works for one cannabinoid, should work for the other.
The reason why we don’t have a definitive answer to the complete mechanics of CBD binding is: research.
There simply is not enough of it, it seems as though all focus has been towards THC - the favorite child.
We are ALL still in this together, trying to figure out what CBD could do for our ECS; does it work exactly the same as THC, does it provide any additional health benefits, etc.
Research also shows that small doses of cannabinoids can signal your body to make more endocannabinoids, which will lead to more receptors being made too.
And more receptors will increase a person’s sensitivity to cannabinoids, which could lead to better effectiveness when using cannabis-derived products.
Experts do believe that CBD can help with our ECS by preventing the endocannabinoids from being broken down by the enzymes. This additional longevity could allow them to have a greater effect on your body.
We also know that a shortage of endocannabinoids can lead to some minor ailments. Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency, CECD, is an idea that suggests a low amount of endocannabinoid in your body could cause you to experience migraines, fibromyalgia, or irritable bowel syndrome.
If this theory holds true, then more research on the matter could lead to a breakthrough with how these conditions are treated.
There are even some theories out there saying we have not yet discovered the receptor that CBD binds with. That a CB3 is still somewhere in our bodies waiting to be found.
So clearly, there is a lot still to be learned with how cannabigerol interacts with our ECS.
The content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. While research has shown that CBD has the potential to help provide beneficial outcomes for several complaints, it is advisable to seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider when you have questions regarding any medical condition and when starting, augmenting or discontinuing any existing health routine.
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