What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system identified in the early 1990s by researchers exploring THC, a well-known cannabinoid (Healthline). Researchers are actively trying to understand the endocannabinoid system but have already discovered that it plays a role in regulating our mood, sleep, appetite, memory and reproduction/fertility. The ECS actually exists actively in our body even if we are not using cannabis.
How exactly does the endocannabinoid system work? The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. First, endocannabinoids, also known as endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules made by our bodies. They are similar to cannabinoids but are produced by our body. Experts have identified the two key endocannabinoids as anandamide (AE) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). These both help keep internal functions running smoothly. Our body produces them as needed which can make it more difficult to know what the typical levels are for each. Second, receptors are found throughout our body. Endocannabinoids bind to the receptors to signal that the ECS needs to get to work. There are two main endocannabinoid receptors. CB1 receptors are mainly found in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors are mainly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells. Endocannabinoids can bind to either of these receptors. The effects of this action are determined by where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to. For example, endocannabinoids might target the CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. They also might bind to a CB2 receptor in our immune cells to signal that our body is experiencing inflammation. Lastly, the enzymes job is for breaking down the endocannabinoids once they’ve completed their function.There are two main enzymes responsible for this; fatty acid amide hydrolase which breaks down AEA and monoacylglycerol acid lipase which typically breaks down 2-AG (Healthline).
As you can see, ECS is complicated, and we are hoping that experts will soon determine how it works in its entirety. ResearchTrusted Source has linked the ECS to appetite, digestion, metabolism, chronic pain, inflammation, mood, memory, motor control, sleep, cardiovascular system function, muscle formation, bone remodeling and growth, liver function, reproduction, stress and skin/nerve functions. All of these functions contribute to homeostasis. If an outside force, for example pain from an injury or a fever from a sickness takes place this will throw off our bodies homeostasis. By doing so, this signals our ECS to get to work and return our body to the ideal operation (Healthline).
How does THC and CBD interact with the ECS? Once THC enters your body it will interact with your ECS by binding to the receptors, same as endocannabinoids. This is so powerful because it can bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. When this takes place, it allows a range of effects to take place on our body and minds. As we know, THC may help with reducing pain and increasing our appetites as well as causing some anxiety or paranoia. In terms of CBD, experts are unaware of how it interacts with the ECS. They do know that it does not bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors in the same way as THC does. Some experts believe that it works by preventing the endocannabinoids from being broken down; allowing more of an effect on our bodies. While others people that CBD binds to an unknown receptor that has not been discovered yet. Even though these details are still unknown, we know that research suggests CBD may help with pain, nausea and other symptoms associated to health conditions.
The ECS plays such an important role in keeping our internal processes stable. There is still so much more research to be done but experts could be on their way to holding a key to treating numerous health conditions.