What is the Endocannabinoid System

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

How does CBD Work with the Endocannabinoid System?

There is an amazing system that regulates our body that most people have not heard about: the endocannabinoid system (ECS). What is the endocannabinoid system exactly? It is a remarkable network of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors that exist throughout our body. Cannabinoid receptors exist on the surface of cells and “listen” to what’s going on in the body. They communicate this information about our bodies’ status and changing circumstances to the inside of the cell, allowing for the appropriate action. In other words, they help us maintain homeostasis by monitoring what is going on in our bodies. 

Scientists have identified two primary cannabinoid receptors, called the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Although both types of receptors can be found throughout the body, CB1 receptors are more highly concentrated in the brain and central nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors can be found abundantly in the immune system, organs, and tissues. 

People and Plants Depend on Cannabinoids 

You may have heard of cannabinoids found in plants, called phytocannabinoids, but the body also produces its own, which are referred to as endocannabinoids. These molecules are created whenever we need them, usually in response to some change in the body. They can bind directly with the cannabinoid receptors and regulate physiological functions, including sleep, pain, inflammation, mood, and appetite.

Scientists have identified two major endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2-AG. Endocannabinoids are made from fat-like molecules within cell membranes. Once the endocannabinoids have fulfilled their usage, metabolic enzymes are able to break them down again. The FAAH enzyme breaks down anandamide, while MAGL enzyme breaks down 2-AG. This ensures that the endocannabinoids are not used for longer than necessary. This process is what separates endocannabinoids from other molecular signals like hormones or neurotransmitters, which can be stored in the body.

Meet the Godfather of Cannabinoid Research

In high school we all learned about the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, but the endocannabinoid system is not nearly as well known. In 1964, an Israeli scientist, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, often called the godfather of cannabinoid research, was the first to identify CBD and then a year later identified and isolated THC. Once cannabinoids could be isolated, it paved the way for research into why cannabis has the impact it does on the human body.

 In 1988, Allyn Howlett and William Devane discovered the first cannabinoid receptor in the brain of a rat. They began to map the CB receptors in the brain and found that there were more of these receptors than any other neurotransmitter receptor. 

How do cannabinoids interact with the ECS?

With all this information on the endocannabinoid system,  how do plant cannabinoids interact with our ECS? With over 120 cannabinoids naturally occurring in the cannabis plant, each one can interact with our ECS in different ways. 

THC and CBD are the most well-known and most studied. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the most active compound in cannabis, and has the ability to interact directly with our endocannabinoid system. When marijuana is consumed, the THC can bind directly with our cannabinoid receptors, in the same way as our endocannabinoids do. 

THC seems to have a preference for our CB1 receptors, found in the brain, which is why THC can cause psychoactive, intoxicating effects and produce the famous ‘high’. 

But what about CBD? Cannabidiol is different: instead of binding directly with our cannabinoid receptors, it has an indirect influence on the ECS. It can help us to produce more endocannabinoids naturally, which in turn leads to a better functioning of the ECS and a healthier body. This is why CBD is being investigated for its potential. Basically, when you take CBD hemp flower, CBD oil or another CBD product, you are absorbing CBD into your bloodstream and allowing it to interact with the ECS. If your endocannabinoid system is struggling to keep up with homeostasis, CBD may give it that much-needed boost.

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