ˌendōˈkə-ˈna-bə-ˌnȯid ˈsis-təm | Noun
A complex cell-signaling system of cannabinoid receptors, lipids, and enzymes identified in the early 1990s by researchers exploring tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the intoxicating cannabis compound. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) performs a large role in maintaining homeostasis or internal regulatory balance in the body.
“Did you know that the endocannabinoid system regulates important bodily functions like sleep, appetite, and fertility?”
“The endocannabinoid system is a newly discovered complex system that helps the body return to its ideal balance.”
More About the Endocannabinoid System
Experts are still trying to develop a complete understanding of the ECS. So far, they know that all mammalian vertebrates have one and that it interacts with endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids. This system exists and is activated in the body regardless if the person uses cannabis. It plays a role in regulating functions and processes in the body, including:
- Learning and memory
- Appetite and digestion
- Chronic pain
- Motor control
- Muscle formation
- Liver function
- Skinny and nerve function
- Reproduction and fertility
Parts of the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is composed of three core elements: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Also known as endogenous cannabinoids, endocannabinoids are molecules produced by the body. They are similar to plant-made cannabinoids known as phytocannabinoids, with the difference that they come from the human body.
The two main endocannabinoids identified by researchers are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Endocannabinoids assist in running internal functions smoothly. They are produced in the body on-demand, so it’s difficult for scientists to know the typical levels for each.
Endocannabinoid receptors are present in different organs and cells throughout the body. Both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids bind to them to signal the ECS to take action. The two main types of endocannabinoid receptors are:
- CB1 receptors, mostly located in the central nervous system
- CB2 receptors, mostly located in the peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells
The effect an endocannabinoid produces depends on which receptor it binds to and where that receptor is located. Some molecules target the CB1 receptor in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others may bind to a CB2 receptor to warn the body about inflammation.
These molecules are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they perform their task. The two main enzymes responsible for the degradation of endocannabinoids are fatty acid amide hydrolase and monoacylglycerol acid lipase.
The Connection Between CBD and the ECS
Researchers aren’t sure how CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system. They know that this cannabinoid doesn’t bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors the way THC does. Many believe that cannabidiol works by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down. Allegedly, that’s how it influences the body and helps with pain, nausea, anxiety, etc. Others believe that this cannabinoid binds to a receptor that has yet to be discovered, which is also possible.
This is a new theory supported by some experts and is known as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). It suggests that low endocannabinoid levels in the body can lead to certain conditions — typically conditions that don’t have a clear underlying cause.
An article published in 2016 suggested the theory that CECD may explain why some people develop fibromyalgia, migraine, and irritable bowel syndrome. All of these conditions are resistant to treatment and oftentimes co-occur. If this theory proves correct, targeting the ECS may be essential to treating these conditions, but more research is needed.
The ECS is a complex system of receptors that plays a big role in keeping internal processes stable.