The Endocannabinoid System
What is the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is a network of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors that exist throughout our bodies. It is thought to exist in pretty much all animals on earth, and it is absolutely crucial to our survival. The cannabinoid receptors exist on the surface of cells and “listen” to what’s going on in the body.
They communicate this information about our bodies’ status and changing circumstances to the inside of the cell, allowing for the appropriate measures to be taken. In other words, they allow for us to maintain homeostasis by monitoring what is going on in our bodies. Scientists have identified two primary cannabinoid receptors, called the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Although both types of receptors can be found all throughout the body, CB1 receptors are more highly concentrated in the brain and central nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors can be found more abundantly in the immune system, organs, and tissues. Most of us have by now heard of the cannabinoids found in plants, called phytocannabinoids, but the body also produces its own, which are referred to as endocannabinoids.
These molecules are created whenever we need them, usually in response to some change in the body. They can bind directly with the cannabinoid receptors – you can think of them as slotting into one another like a jigsaw puzzle or a lock and key. To date, scientists have identified two major endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2-AG. Endocannabinoids are made from fat-like molecules within cell membranes. Once the endocannabinoids have fulfilled their usage, metabolic enzymes are able to break them down again. FAAH breaks down anandamide, while MAGL breaks down 2-AG. This ensures that the endocannabinoids are not used for longer than necessary. This process is what separates endocannabinoids from other molecular signals like hormones or neurotransmitters, which can be stored in the body.
How do cannabinoids interact with the Endocannabinoid System?
With all this information on the endocannabinoid system, it’s logical to jump straight to wondering how plant cannabinoids interact with our Endocannabinoid System. Of course, with over 100 cannabinoids naturally occurring in the cannabis plant, each one can interact with our Endocannabinoid System in different ways. THC and CBD are the most well-known and most well-studied, though, having garnered the most public interest. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the most infamous active compound in cannabis, and it has the ability to interact directly with our endocannabinoid system. When marijuana is consumed, the THC can bind directly with our cannabinoid receptors, in the same way as our endocannabinoids do.
THC seems to have a preference for our CB1 receptors, found in the brain, which is why THC can cause psychoactive, intoxicating effects and produce the famous ‘high’. But what about CBD? Cannabidiol is slightly different; instead of binding directly with our cannabinoid receptors, it has an indirect influence on the Endocannabinoid System. It can help us to produce more endocannabinoids naturally, which in turn leads to a better functioning of the Endocannabinoid System and a healthier body.
The endocannabinoid system is a very important system in the human body. It is not only crucial to our survival, but it is also fundamental in understanding what impact taking CBD could have on our bodies. As you can see, the existence of the ECS is very encouraging for the CBD industry, as it shows why CBD can have such a positive impact on people.