The Endocannabinoid System and You

The Endocannabinoid System and You

It’s remarkable to think that until relatively recently, scientists were oblivious to the endocannabinoid system. It was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that they began to discover its biomachinery and the role it plays in the body.

Fast forward to today, and the endocannabinoid system is big news. Many researchers believe that it is a kind of master regulator for our nervous system, fundamentally affecting how we feel. Thus, ensuring that it remains healthy is vital for a productive and happy life.

Unfortunately, thanks to modern circumstances, disease and lifestyles, our endocannabinoid systems can get out of whack. And that can result in a bunch of unpleasant symptoms.

Thus, for many CBD users, learning about the endocannabinoid system is essential. Having an understanding of how it works and what it does makes it clear why the cannabis plant is so unique and beneficial.

How Does The Endocannabinoid System Work?

Researchers believe that the endocannabinoid system regulates multiple body processes, including sleep, memory, mood, appetite and reproduction. In other words, it is still highly active, even if you don’t take any cannabinoid products at all.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) works using a combination of signalling chemicals and receptors.

So far, scientists have discovered two cannabinoids that the body makes itself: anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol – so named because of their chemical similarity to compounds found in the cannabis plant.

These interact with receptors located in the brain and nervous system, modifying the activity of neurotransmitters. For instance, anandamide affects the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters, creating a sensation of bliss in the body.

There are two major types of endocannabinoid receptors found throughout the body identified as well: CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors are mainly found in the central nervous system and help relieve spine pain when they interact with endocannabinoids. CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral nervous system and immune cells. Cannabinoids that bind to these may help to reduce body-wide inflammation.

Lastly, the ECS contains several enzymes which break down cannabinoids once they carry out their function. A molecule called fatty acid amide hydrolase breaks down anandamide, while another called monoacylglycerol acid lipase degrades 2-arachidonoylglycerol.

Can You Have A Deficiency Of Endocannabinoids?

Many people use cannabis because they believe that their bodies are not making enough endocannabinoids. But is this possible?

Some experts believe that it is, and they even have a name for it: clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). The theory postulates that people who have chronically low levels of endocannabinoids in their system are much more likely to develop conditions such as migraine, irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia. Evidence from a ten-year review article published in 2016 appears to back up this statement. People with these conditions seem to have much lower levels of endocannabinoids in their system than normal.

How Does CBD Interact With The ECS?

When it comes to cannabinoids, CBD is a bit of an odd-ball. It doesn’t appear to interact with the ECS via any of the known receptors. However, people who use it swear by its effects. So what’s going on?

Experts now think that CBD works by preventing enzymes from breaking down the existing endocannabinoids in your system. So when you take it, anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol are free to accumulate and interact with ECS receptors for longer.

Another theory says that CBD works by interacting with a receptor researchers haven’t discovered yet. Since 1999, researchers have found multiple receptors to which various cannabinoids bind, including GPR18, GPR119 and GPR55, but how these interact with CBD is still unknown.

From the science, it’s clear that investigators haven’t yet worked it all out. But, thanks to clinical trials and experience, they now believe that CBD is having a real effect on the body beyond placebo.

How Does THC Interact With The ECS?

THC appears to interact with the ECS in a fundamentally different way from CBD. Evidence suggests that it interacts with CB1 and CB2 receptors found in the brain and body. Because it attaches to so many sites, it can have a considerable range of effects, from making you feel euphoric to relaxed. It may even attach to nerves in the gut, giving you the munchies.

Researchers are currently looking at why THC has some undesirable effects and what they can do about it. Adding other compounds from the cannabis plant may reduce its unpleasant side effects in a process known as the entourage effects, but research is ongoing to prove this.

The Bottom Line

Your endocannabinoid system plays a primary role in your wellbeing. Sometimes, however, the body doesn’t create enough endocannabinoids. So, for some people, it may be worth supplementing with those from the cannabis plant.

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