The Endocannabinoid System – A Vital Piece Of The Puzzle
Named after the plant that lead to its discovery, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) regulates several functions in your body. It adjusts and readjusts the body’s complex network of molecular thermostats with the goal of maintaining ‘homeostasis’ – a process of keeping the body stable while it adapts to optimal survival conditions.
In the case of a skin wound, for example, during homeostasis, the blood vessels contract to restrict blood flow, platelets seal the skin break, and coagulation occurs to close the wound. The ECS controls appetite, pain, reproduction, temperature, brain cells, neurons, and our entire physiologic system. Without it, we could not survive.
Is your temperature too high, too low? Are your hormone levels what they should be? Is your heart beating too fast? Do you need fuel or rest? Is too much of something building up in your bloodstream or inside of your cells? When something is operating outside of the right range, your body activates the ECS to help correct it.
So, when you’re hot and begin to sweat, thank your Endocannabinoid system for working to cool you down. Stomach growling? That’s your Endocannabinoid system reminding you that you need fuel. Your body activates the ECS with precision so that it impacts only what it needs to.
Every function of your body, from hormone levels to the chemical makeup of your blood relies on the proper functioning of the ECS. And when it is out of balance, you will know it. Your body will manifest symptoms to alert you that something is wrong.
In Western society, however, we have become accustomed to separating our bodies from ourselves, and only taking action when our symptoms begin to yell loud enough so that drastic measures are called for. We have been cut off from the healing benefits of plants through societal programming.
Thankfully, a movement towards holistic measures is gaining traction.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
In 1988, a government-funded study at the St. Louis University School of Medicine determined that the mammalian brain has receptor sites that respond to compounds found in cannabis.
These receptors–which they aptly named cannabinoid receptors– turned out to be more significant to overall function than any of the human body’s other systems. Later, it was found that these receptor sites are located not just in the brain, but throughout the body.
The nervous system, lungs, liver, kidneys, immune system, spleen, and gastrointestinal tract contain them as well.
In the pursuit of unearthing metabolic pathways, scientists came across an unknown molecular signaling system within the body that is involved in regulating a vast range of biological functions.
This system was named the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS performs multiple tasks, but its main job is to maintain a stable environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.
While the discovery of ECS is relatively new, scientists believe that it’s been present in living organisms for millions of years – barring insects, all types of animals have it.
Makeup of the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system can be divided into the following parts: cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), endocannabinoids (eCBs) and metabolic enzymes.
Receptors (CB1 and CB2):
The THC-receptor discovered by researchers during animal laboratory studies is called the CB1 receptor. We have the same receptor, and its function is to mediate mental activity. We experience the psychoactive effects of cannabis when THC binds to the CB1 receptor. CB1 receptors are concentrated in our brain and peripheral nervous system.
The second receptor, CB2, regulates our immune system and can be found in the blood vessels, heart, liver, bones, etc. You can think of cannabinoid receptors as shields protecting the cells by scanning the fluids flowing around the cells for intruders.
Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters which the body produces on its own and they circulating throughout our cells. The two main eCBs of our ECS are Anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol, also called 2-AG.
Ananda (short for Anandamide) was discovered during marijuana-related research in 1992. It’s called our ‘inner cannabis’ because it resembles THC in its effects on the body. Anandamide attaches to the same cells as THC and is involved in several functions including memory and appetite. The name of this neurotransmitter comes from a Sanskrit word which means ‘bliss.’
Three years from the discovery of Anandamide, researchers discovered another major eCB, 2-AG. 2-AG attaches to CB1 and CB2 receptors, and research suggests that it’s involved with our emotions and cardiovascular system.
Both of these main neurotransmitters of the ECS are based on lipids (oils and fats). Several different enzymes in our body work together to produce eCBs. To do their job eCBs need assistance for moving through the body. This assistance is provided by endocannabinoid proteins. The transport proteins also perform another vital function: After the eCBs have done their job, the proteins move them to places where they are stored or degraded.
Along with discovering our inner cannabinoid receptors, researchers were also able to clone cannabis receptors. This led to the development of substances that can activate and deactivate receptors.
Molecules that can activate receptors are called ‘agonists’ and those that can deactivate them are called ‘antagonist.’ eCBs can attach to several receptors. CB1 and CB2 receptors accept three types of cannabinoids: the endogenous type, the plant-based phyto-cannabinoids, such as CBD and THC, and the synthetically-manufactured type.
Improper functioning of the endocannabinoid system:
Several ailments are linked to deficiencies in the ECS. This deficiency can result from less than the required quantity of signal messengers Anandamide, 2-AG or CB1/ CB2 receptors. Sometimes it is a combination of these. Research has shown that deficiencies in endocannabinoid regulation can result in migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, miscarriage, and a host of other conditions.
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
CBD (Cannabidiol) is a phytocannabinoid that’s extracted from the flower of the cannabis plant. CBD does not trigger the CB1 or CB2 receptors like the phytocannabinoid THC found in the marijuana plant. Also, unlike THC, CBD does not make a person feel “stoned.”
CBD’s function in the ECS is to influence how natural cannabinoids attach to receptors.
CBD also influences the metabolic enzymes and transport proteins. In the ECS, it modifies the behavior of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). FAAH is the enzyme that degrades Anandamide.
CBD impairs FAAH’s degradation powers, increasing the quantity of the ‘blissful’ Anandamide in our body. Fatty acid-binding proteins (FABP) bind to Anandamide so the eCB can be transported and metabolized. As a result of CBD’s action, the FABP bind with it instead of the Anandamide, making Anandamide (and its effects) last longer.
Research has shown that CBD can enhance the inhibitory effect of THC on cancer cells (glioblastoma cell). The researchers also found that these effects can be seen when the two compounds are used together as opposed to when they’re used individually.
Other research suggests that a CBD/ THC combination can improve sleep in patients who have conditions such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.
Regarding its use with inflammation-related conditions, research suggests that plant cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) have a wide range of benefits and may be useful in treating diabetes, hypertension, depression, neuropathic pain, problems with the central nervous system, and several other diseases.
To summarize the function of CBD in our endocannabinoid system, the compound mainly enhances the effects of our own naturally-occurring endocannabinoids – Anandamide in the case of CBD.
Cannabinoid oil products are now widely available, but not all of them are the real deal. The unregulated market has made the production and sale of CBD oils and other CBD products a sort of free-for-all.
There are products being sold that contain little to no cannabidiol, and even some unsafe imitations containing synthetic cannabinoids as well. Because of this, CBD Charter conducts thorough research into each of the companies we endorse, so that you know you are getting a safe and effective product.