What is the Human Endocannabinoid System?
The medical term “Endo” meaning within, inside, and internal. Cannabinoid refers to the compounds found within the cannabis plant but are also found endogenously in the human body. Put these two together “endocannabinoid” is an advanced cell-signalling network found in the human body and most other species on the planet including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and even invertebrates. Only recently re-discovered in human literature in the early 1990’s the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a major role in many metabolic functions in the body.
How does it work?
There are three core elements of the ECS that make it functional.
- Endocannabinoid receptors
Also known as endogenous cannabinoids, endocannabinoids mimic those found in cannabis, other foods, and terpenes. These endocannabinoids are produced by the body to help it balance systems and metabolic functions where needed. Endocannabinoid levels are hard to measure and monitor as they are constantly changing and adapting to the body.
The two key cannabinoids that play a role in the ECS, due to legal restrictions there hasn't been great extensive data on exactly how cannabinoids interact with the ECS, but we are learning more everyday as the stigma on cannabis begins to lift globally. Let us take a look at what we know now.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) the psychoactive cannabinoid binds to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors which can create both the desired and undesired effects of ingesting cannabis. The receptors allow the effects such as pain relief and appetite increase, but also induce anxiety and paranoia. CBD (Cannabidiol) is known to reduce or curb the undesired effects of THC or the feeling of being too high.
These receptors are found throughout the body, endocannabinoids bind to these CB receptors, and let them know where the ECS needs to take action.
There are two types of receptors;
- CB1 Receptors - these are mostly found in the central nervous system.
- CB2 Receptors - these are mostly found in the peripheral nervous system, and Immune cells.
CB1 and CB2 receptors receive information from endogenous cannabinoids in the body and cannabinoids such as THC to generate a response for specific issues that arrive within the internal system. For example endocannabinoids would target a CB1 receptor in the spine to relieve pain where needed, and a CB2 receptor will receive a signal in the immune cells to let the body know that there is an inflammatory response occurring, which is often associated with an autoimmune disease or illness.
Enzymes complete the ECS cycle and are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function. There are two main enzymes responsible for this:
- anandamide (AEA)
- 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)
- fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA
- monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG
What does the ECS help, and what are its functions?
If you were to ask us to summarise its function in one word. Balance! Although The ECS is complicated, and experts haven’t yet determined exactly how it works or all of its potential functions. These are just a few research backed potentially helpful functions of the ECS.
- appetite and digestion
- chronic pain
- inflammation and other immune system responses
- learning and memory
- motor control
- cardiovascular system function
- muscle formation
- bone remodeling and growth
- liver function
- reproductive system function
- skin and nerve function
These functions all contribute to homeostasis, which refers to stability of your internal environment, or in other words Balance!! A balance of all internal systems working together to keep our body in a happy and healthy state. As an example, if an outside force, such as pain from an injury or a fever, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS kicks in to help your body return to its ideal operation, and experts in the field of cannabis science believe that maintaining homeostasis if the primary role of the ECS.
Can you activate it without cannabis?
The ECS can be activated with the likes of essential fatty acids, chocolate, saunas, ice baths, and overall stress reduction including toxic load that we carry in our day to day life
According to Teaera Roland of Lotus Health, an expert in the field of medical cannabis, CBD modulates the 5ht serotonin receptor, which can treat psychotic disorders. It can also affect the TRPV1 receptor, which is responsible for pain and inflammation. It is not yet fully confirmed as to whether CBD binds to CB1 or 2 receptors, or another undiscovered receptor in the body but it does play a role in potentially prevent the break-down of our own endocannabinoids, giving them the potential to act longer and be more effective in their function.
Just like our immune system, the endocannabinoid system works with the body to help restore it back to health or normal function, everyday stress and toxins including poor diet can dampen the ECS and its effectiveness.
With more research CB1 and CB2 receptors may be able to tell us more about how we avoid illnesses or at least assist the body in protecting us from them. What we do know is that using cannabis products like CBD, THC, and Terpenes definitely offer positive, physical, and external effects that can be measured by our mood, wellbeing, and pain management.
Thank you for reading!