Years ago, while digging up information about cannabis [mainly THC] and its effects on humans, researchers found something interesting – a complex system called the endocannabinoid system, or ECS. Although the ECS was first discovered in the early ’90s, to date, researchers still think there’s more to understand about the ECS and how it works.
However, from research results so far, authors perceive the ECS may help modulate certain bodily functions, including mood, sleep, memory, appetite, and a lot more.
This article discusses this incredible Endocannabinoid System – how it works, and, importantly, its relationship with cannabis.
What is Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system is a complex system with three important components, namely
Endocannabinoids are molecules that naturally occur in your body. These molecules, also called endogenous cannabinoids, mimic plant-based cannabinoids(phytocannabinoids), like those found in cannabis.
Endocannabinoids occur in two forms:
· Anandamide (AEA
· 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)
Research evidence suggests these compounds bind with the receptors (explained below) to promote the smooth running of several internal functions.
Studies are ongoing to explain how much of each endocannabinoid the body supplies and their exact roles in homeostasis.
The ECS also features receptors. Spread across the body, these receptors send necessary sensitive signals to appropriate body functionaries after the endocannabinoids bind with them.
These receptors are of two major types:
- CB1 receptors mostly occur in the central nervous system – spinal cord nerves and the brain.
- CB2 receptors: predominantly in your peripheral nervous system – i.e., special immune system cells and digestive system.
The endocannabinoids work with both receptors to deliver varying effects. The result obtained is widely dependent on two factors:
- The location of the receptors
- The particular endocannabinoid the receptor interacts with
For clarity – to relieve pain, the endocannabinoids might interact with the CB1 receptors located in a spiral nerve. Conversely, to send inflammation signals, the endocannabinoids might interact with the CB2 receptors found in your immune cells.
Research shows CB receptors predominantly exist in the central nervous system. However, researchers have not ruled out the existence of a third yet-to-be-discovered cannabinoid receptor.
After the endocannabinoids execute their functions, enzymes are released to break them down.
Two primary enzymes perform this function:
- Monoacylglycerol acid lipase
- Fatty acid amide hydrolase
While the monoacylglycerol acid lipase is responsible for breaking down the 2-AG endocannabinoids, the latter metabolizes the AEA endocannabinoids.
How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?
The ECS is needed for homeostasis. So, to get a clearer picture of ECS and its workings, it’s essential first to understand what homeostasis means.
In simple terms, homeostasis is a state where your body performs how it originally should. In homeostasis, the body’s internal environment is in a stable and optimal position.
The ECS consistently checks up on these critical internal functions and their performances to ensure everything stays intact.
- Had a long day and need some rest?
- Hungry and needs to refuel?
- Irregular hormonal levels?
In such states, when anything looks out of range, your body uses the endocannabinoid system to balance them out. So, if you ever feel hungry, appreciate your ECS for performing and treat it to some nutritious meal.
Are you feeling worked out? That’s your ECS reminding you of your long day and a need to rest.
Research findings suggest ECS are responsible for a range of body functions, including:
- Motor control
- Learning and memory
- Chronic pain
- Muscle formation
- Cardiovascular system function
- Bone growth and remodeling
- Skin and nerve function
- Liver function
- Reproductive system function
The ECS modulates these functions, which in turn causes homeostasis. If, for instance, you feel pain from an injury, your ECS intervenes to bring your body to its original functioning.
Cannabis and Your Endocannabinoid System – The Heaven-Made Match
Against widespread perception, the widely criticized cannabis plant can be a miracle in disguise. Researchers have found over a hundred different cannabinoids in the cannabis plant – both the hemp and marijuana variants. Some researchers perceive there’s a lot more to uncover.
Among the lots, THC and CBD are the most occurring and most prominent compounds in the herb. While research is ongoing to unravel other compounds and their relationship with the ECS, results have found useful links between the effects of these popular compounds and the ECS.
Let’s quickly discuss how the ECS works with these compounds
The Endocannabinoid System and Tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC)
THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. That is, it is mainly responsible for the ‘high’ marijuana users feel.
When consumed – whether by ingestion or inhalation – THC relates with your ECS by interacting with the receptors. Cannabis compounds bind with the ECS the same way endocannabinoids do. One unique thing about THC is its ability to interact with both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
This interaction delivers several effects to your mind and body. Among which users may find some effects more enjoyable than other. The same THC which causes a high, may also help boost appetite and reduce pain. On the other hand, anxiety and paranoia are typical cases users report.
To bypass THC’s adverse effects, experts are currently working to produce lab-made THC that binds with the ECS in only profitable ways.
The Endocannabinoid System and Cannabidiol (CBD)
After THC, Cannabidiol (popularly CBD) is the most occurring compound in cannabis. Researchers find CBD to be safe and widely tolerated. Unlike THC, CBD will not leave you high and all spaced out.
Studies are currently investigating more about the CBD-ECS relationship. But, so far, research results show that CBD interacts with the cannabinoid receptors differently from THC.
Indicators suggest that CBD inhibits the breakdown of endocannabinoids. This way, the endocannabinoids stay longer and, in turn, produce more effects in the body.
Some authors argue that CBD may also interact with a yet-undiscovered receptor.
While more research may be needed to say precisely how CBD works, some evidence –both scientific and anecdotal – suggest the compound may help manage nausea, pain, and several other anomalies.
Some researchers posit that low levels of endocannabinoids in the body can cause dysfunction that may trigger certain health concerns – a theory referred to as the Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD).
A publication reviewed over a decade of ECS research suggests CECD may be a logical explanation to conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia, and migraine.
These conditions are not exactly linked to any notable underlying factor. Besides, they have no known treatments and sometimes occur side by side.
Well, if CECD is the culprit of these conditions, then the ECS seems the right target for a solution. Hence, an adequate supply of endocannabinoids may be an appropriate treatment. More research is, however, required to validate – or dismiss – existing claims.
While we await more research to unravel the true workings of the endocannabinoid system, from existing evidence, the ECS could be a key to a range of health conditions.