Did you realise we had a whole system named after weed? We do.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays important roles in your body well beyond the process it’s named for, which is interacting with cannabis, also known as marijuana.
“Cannabinoid” comes from “cannabis,” and “endo” is short for “endogenous,” which means that it is produced naturally inside of your body. So “endocannabinoid” simply means cannabis-like substances that naturally occur inside us.
The ECS itself is made up of three parts:
- Receptors in the nervous system and around your body that endocannabinoids and cannabinoids bond with
- Enzymes that help break down endocannabinoids and cannabinoids
The Endocannabinoid System: Crucial for Homeostasis
To understand the ECS, it first helps to understand what homeostasis is.
Basically, homeostasis is your body’s efforts to keep everything in the right zone. It tries to keep your internal environment stable and optimal no matter what’s going on in the environment around you. Just like the electronics in a car or plane, your body works continuously to monitor important levels and functions in your body. Is your temperature too high, too low, or just right? 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 not operating correctly, your body activates the ECS to help correct it. So when you’re really hot and begin to sweat, thank your ECS for working to cool you down. Stomach growling? That’s your ECS helping remind you to eat because you need fuel.
The ECS does this via cannabinoid receptors found in select tissues. We have (at least) two types of cannabinoid receptors:
- CB1 which is in the central nervous system (brain and nerves of the spinal cord)
- CB2 which is in the peripheral nervous system (nerves in your extremities), the digestive system, and specialised cells in the immune system
Through those receptors, the ECS helps regulate a lot of important functions, such as:
- Immune function
- Inflammation, including neuroinflammation
- Motor control
- Temperature regulation
The Role of Receptors and Enzymes
When someone smokes marijuana, a cannabinoid from the plant attaches to the CB1 receptor in the brain and creates a high. This cannabinoid is called THC. One of our own endocannabinoids that attaches to the same CB1 receptor is called anandamide. The reason anandamide doesn’t get us high and THC does is beaches of something called the FAAH enzyme. FAAH’s job is to break down anandamide and other endocannabinoids created by the body. Endocannibinoids created by our body can be broken down quicker and easier, but FAAH cannot break down THC. Which is why THC sticks around for a lot longer and therefore has a much greater effect.
On the flip side, a plant-based cannabinoid that’s gotten a lot of attention from researchers is cannabidiol or CBD. It doesn’t have any psychoactive properties, so its benefits come without the high of THC. One known function of CBD in the brain is to stop the FAAH enzyme from breaking down anandamide, so the anandamide can have more of an impact. That’s believed to be why CBD holds all these amazing benefits.
Cannabinoids are being researched as potential treatments for all kinds of conditions. Some of the illness they’re being researched for include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Neurological, neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental, and psychiatric illnesses
- Acute and chronic kidney disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Chronic inflammatory diseases
- Chronic pain conditions
CBD already is in use for paediatric epilepsy, pain, inflammation, acne, asthma, and a host of other conditions.
Information sourced from: https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-the-endocannabinoid-system-4171855