The Endocannabinoid System

We keep hearing about CBD, and some sources are making big claims about what it can do for people. To understand how cannabidiol, or CBD, benefits us, it is crucial to have information about how it works in our bodies. Therefore, a discussion of the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is essential. We have only known about the ECS since 1990, and it isn’t yet understood fully, but we will share some important information to get you started.


The ECS at a Glance

Everyone has an ECS even if you don’t use cannabis, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) or CBD, and it is found in all vertebrate species. Experts are still trying to understand the ECS fully. What we do know is that it plays a part in several systems and body functions, including:


  • Liver function
  • Reproductive system function and fertility
  • Muscle formation
  • Bone remodeling and growth
  • Stress
  • Skin and nerve function
  • Appetite and digestion
  • Inflammation and other immune system responses
  • Mood
  • Learning and memory
  • Motor control
  • Sleep
  • Cardiovascular system function
  • Metabolism
  • Chronic pain


It is also believed that ECS is heavily involved in brain development, the ability to adapt, immunity, and almost every aspect of our physiology.


The ECS is made of three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.



  • Endocannabinoids


Endocannabinoids are molecules made by your body. They’re similar to phytocannabinoids produced in cannabis, but your body produces them. Endocannabinoids help keep internal functions running smoothly. Your body produces them when you need them.



  • Endocannabinoid Receptors


These receptors are found throughout your body, and endocannabinoids bind to them to signal that the ECS needs to act. There are two central endocannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system
  • CB2 receptors, which are found primarily in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells

Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The results of the binding change depending on several variables. Endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others might bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal inflammation


ECS receptors are best compared to the locks as they are designed to be opened by the particular key. The keys are the endocannabinoids.



  • Enzymes


Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function. These enzymes ensure that endocannabinoids get used when they’re needed. 


The Concept of Homeostasis

Homeostasis is the ability of your body to keep functioning despite changes or stressors. Our systems work together to maintain and organize our internal chemistry to achieve homeostasis in the body. In healthy organisms, processes related to homeostasis run automatically. Many systems work together to hold steady a single physiological factor, like body temperature. If there is a change in any of the systems, we might get sick or even die. The ECS is deeply involved in homeostasis and, therefore, keeping us healthy.  


Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome

Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED) is a syndrome that has been proposed as a cause of several illnesses and diseases, but at this point, it remains a theory introduced by Dr. Ethan Russo in 2003. He bases its idea on the discovery that many disorders are due to deficiencies in either endocannabinoids or receptors that the body needs to function correctly. Dr. Russo suggests that deficiencies in the ECS could be behind many diseases and that stimulating the ECS through the application of cannabinoids could resolve many health problems. For example, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and related conditions have things in common that suggest an endocannabinoid deficiency that may be able to be treated with cannabinoid medicines such as CBD.


How does CBD interact with the ECS?

CBD is a primary cannabinoid found in cannabis, and it may be able to help address issues related to CED. CBD doesn’t make you “high” and typically doesn’t cause any adverse effects.


Experts aren’t entirely sure how CBD interacts with the ECS, but they do know that most cannabinoids can bind to both the CB1 and CB2 types of receptors. This is true for both the endocannabinoids (made in the body) and phytocannabinoids (made in plants). However, the phytocannabinoid CBD doesn’t directly trigger either receptor. CBD plays a more significant role in the ECS, influencing other types of receptors while also enhancing your natural levels of endocannabinoids. 


Many believe CBD works by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down. This allows them to have more of an effect on your body. Others believe that CBD binds to a receptor that hasn’t been discovered yet.  One popular theory says that CBD modifies CB1 receptors so that they are harder to activate and that CBD helps boost your natural levels of endocannabinoids. This dual activity of CBD on the endocannabinoid system, as well as its innumerable benefits on other systems, can create a balancing effect for many people. There is still much to learn.


While the details of how it works are still under debate, research suggests that CBD can help with chronic pain, substance use disorder, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and other symptoms associated with multiple conditions.


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