Understanding The Endocannabinoid System

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How does the body’s endocannabinoid system (ESC) work and affect your health and well-being?

Your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) regulates many aspects of your health and well-being. Humans share ECS neurochemicals with most animal kingdom members, which developed nearly 600 million years ago. Because of its early evolution, the ECS is connected to various neurological and physiological functions.

Since the 1960s, scientists have identified many phytocannabinoids and phytochemicals from cannabis and hemp. Through studying their effects, they discovered a network of biochemical paths, receptors, and enzymes that manufacture and use your body’s natural cannabinoids.

Many people have heard of cannabis’ effects on stress, pain, inflammation, immunity, and mood, among other things; those are precisely the areas where the ECS works to maintain a healthy balance.

The ECS includes cannabinoid receptors (CB receptors), endocannabinoids (eCBs), and enzymes that utilize eCBs. Initial research first suggested endocannabinoid receptors were part of the brain and nervous system. With more research, scientists discovered that the receptors are everywhere in the body.

Endocannabinoids (eCBs)

Endocannabinoids (eCBs) are produced naturally throughout your body. Think of them as messengers that use neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. They are the neurochemical delivery mechanism for the central nervous and immune systems.

Two important eCBs are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol. Like cannabis and hemp’s phytocannabinoids, these neurotransmitters are built from lipids (fat- or oil-based). Because they are lipid-based, they are fat-soluble, and that is the reason most CBD is oil-based.

Anandamide works throughout the ECS, in appetite and memory, to name a few functions. 

It’s been identified as the source of the runner’s high that is often experienced during or after exercise. 

Finally, 2-ArachidonoylGlycerol (2-AG) has been linked to seizure protection and cardiovascular health.

Cannabinoid receptors (CBs)

CBs are the gatekeepers of the ECS. They’re found on cell surfaces throughout the body; they wait for the neurochemical messages or neurotransmitters, and they bind with specific neurotransmitters. Depending on the cell type, they influence your body’s mood, sensation, immunity, and even consciousness. The two primary CBs are CB1 and CB2.

CB1 are among the most common receptors of the central nervous system, and they are necessary for a healthily functioning brain. Depending on where in the brain they are, they moderate mood, memory, motor function, and pain perception.

CB2 receptors are usually found on immune system cells. They help regulate our immune system response to pathogens and also inflammation. They help counteract such conditions as arthritis inflammation, asthma, digestive ailments, and autoimmune diseases.

New research suggests the endocannabinoid system is more complicated than initially thought. Scientists’ discovered that cannabinoids are useful for controlling blood pressure, pain response, inflammation, and gastric function, even without CB1 and CB2 receptors.

That led to the identification of at least eight other receptors that bind with cannabinoids. At least three receptors, GPR18, GPR55, and GPR119, function in the immune system, central nervous system, and gastrointestinal systems. Other newly identified receptors regulate cellular function and pain transmission.


So far, we’ve talked about the messengers (eCBs) and the gatekeepers (CBs,) but what is the actual message?

Your body has molecules (enzymes) that control when and where eCBs are produced. They also control how fast eCBs are isolated or broken down. These molecules are essentially the administrator, directing the eCBs to the right place at the right time. When your body receives a signal to produce eCBs, enzymes begin their work.

Endocannabinoids are created from certain body fats, such as lipids. Several enzymes change these fatty substances into anandamide and 2-AG; however, two enzymes do most of the work. Fatty acid amide hydrolase breaks down anandamide, and monoacylglycerol acid lipase usually deals with 2-AG.

This is why the increased dietary intake of essential fatty acids, such as Omega-#, is necessary. Fatty acids might help your system to increase eCBs production. They are unique building blocks for eCBs. Once eCBs have completed their work, enzymes break them down.

What are the ECS’ functions?

The ECS is complicated, and experts haven’t quite figured out all its functions and how the ECS works. Researchers have linked the ECS to many bodily functions, such as:

  • appetite, digestion, and metabolism
  • chronic pain and pain transmission
  • stress and resulting inflammation
  • immune system response
  • mood
  • learning and memory
  • motor control
  • sleep quality and duration
  • the functioning of the cardiovascular, liver, skin, reproductive, and nerve systems
  • muscle formation, bone growth, and remodeling

These functions work to achieve balance and stability (homeostasis) of your body’s health and well-being. If, for example, you experience pain from an injury or fever from an illness, it throws your body out of kilter. That’s when your ECS begins work to return your body to optimal functioning. Many experts think that that’s the central role of your ECS—maintaining homeostasis.

Endocannabinoid deficiency?

Some researchers believe in a condition known as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). They theorize that low eCBs levels, or CECD, set the stage for developing certain diseases.

In a 2016 article that reviewed more than ten years’ research on this subject, the authors suggested CECD could explain conditions such as migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia. Such conditions don’t have an exact cause and are often resistant to treatment. At times they appear concurrently.

If CECD does undermine health and well-being, focusing on the ECS or eCBs production could answer treatment options. However, more research is required before sound conclusions can be drawn.

Effects of CBD on the ECS

Scientists and researchers don’t completely understand how CBD works with the ECS. However, they know that CBD doesn’t bind with CB1 and CB2 receptors the same way as THC.

Many believe that the ECS prevents eCBs from breaking down, which positively affects your wellness and health. Other researchers think CBD binds to an as-yet-undiscovered receptor.

Even though researchers debate the EC S’s functions and effects on your body, there are clear indications that CBD can help maintain health and well-being and address symptoms of pain and nausea. Early evidence suggests that CBD can relieve other symptoms that are tied to multiple conditions.


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