What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?
This post may get very scientific - stay with me!
Throughout the body, we have intricate internal systems made up of tissues, glands, organs, and cells. These systems maintain internal stability, often referred to as homeostasis and include the endocrine system, reproductive system, nervous system, digestive system, circulatory system, and the immune system.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is very complex and broad in its function. Essentially, the ECS is a series of homeostatic regulatory mechanisms. It plays a major role in:
Immune response & inflammation
Protection of neural tissues.
The ECS is the most widespread receptor system in the human body and is made up of three key components: cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and metabolic enzymes.
Cannabinoid receptors are receptors found all over the body on the surface of cells. Receptors are everywhere – the spinal cord, immune system, internal organs, brain, peripheral nervous system, and even on the skin!
The most studied receptors are CB1 and CB2. There are also “orphan” CB receptors including GPR55, GPR18, GPR30, and GPR119 (We will save more details on “orphan” CB receptors for a future blog post!).
The CB1 receptors are predominantly found in the:
Central nervous system
CB2 receptors are found throughout the:
Immune system and its associated structures
With locations of receptors found throughout the body, it’s no wonder CBD is beneficial for a variety of ailments!
Endocannabinoids are tiny molecules that activate the cannabinoid receptor. Endocannabinoids are compounds produced by our body. How cool is it that we produce our own cannabinoids?!
The two major endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These endocannabinoids stimulate the cannabinoid receptors to activate biological activity. As fat-like molecules within cell membranes, these endocannabinoids are made and used when needed rather than stored for later use. (You may have heard of anandamide referred to as the “bliss” molecules resulting from a “runner’s high.”)
However, there are different types of cannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are compounds found in plants including those in the cannabis plant family. Cannabinoids can also be synthesized
Metabolic enzymes: Enzymes, such as fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) or monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL), synthesize and break down endocannabinoids once used. These enzymes ensure endocannabinoids are used only when needed.
The ECS helps coordinate messages between our body and our brain to ensure that both respond properly to internal and external stimuli. An easy way to understand how the ECS works are to think of it as a lock and key. The cannabinoid receptors are the locks and cannabinoids are the key. When cannabinoids interact with the receptors, they trigger a set of events to carry out a range of cellular responses required for healthy functioning.
ECS and Inflammation
Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response. It is the body’s way of signaling the immune system to repair tissue and defend itself against bacteria and viruses.
Photo credit: Kiss png
Research suggests that endocannabinoids act as anti-inflammatory agents and are produced when immune cells are activated (Immune cells are activated when bacteria/viruses enter the body, or an injury occurs). Studies also show that cannabinoids (CBD, THC, etc.) have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Cannabinoids can manipulate endocannabinoids helping to reduce inflammation.
The main function of the ECS is to help the body reach homeostasis – biological harmony in response to changes in the environment. The presence of this system throughout the body explains why a variety of diseases and ailments are responsive to cannabis consumption. To balance your cannabinoids levels, try consuming phytocannabinoids. A functioning endocannabinoid system is vital to a healthy mind and body. Remember though – this isn’t a cure-all. A healthy mind and body come along with a healthy diet and exercise as well.
Stay healthy my friends!