Intro to the Endocannabinoid System (ECS):
As I am not a doctor, please do not take this as medical advice. The information below is for essential enrichment and gives a general understanding of the endocannabinoid system which is a system still being researched currently. While the information here was obtained by reading medical journals, always consult a doctor before making a decision affecting your health.
First off, what’s the difference between “endocannabinoids” and “phytocannabinoids”?
Phytocannabinoids are plant-based cannabinoids like those found in the cannabis plant (CBD, CBG, CBN, THC etc. There are over 100 that have been identified) Each phytocannabinoid seeking to unlock its potential in your body. Endocannabinoids are “endogenous,” meaning your body already produces them.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating and balancing many body processes, including immune response, appetite, pain, mood management, inflammation, metabolism, memory, and more as we continue researching. The body naturally balances itself through endocannabinoids like Anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine; AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) as they attach themselves to ECS receptors called CB1 and CB2 receptors. It is this balance or “homeostasis” that allows our bodies to be “healthy.”
How does CBD help the ECS?
Phytocannabinoids (or cannabinoids that come from plants AKA hemp) can help the body balance the production of endocannabinoids like AEA and 2-AG.
What’s confusing, even to scientist, is that CBD and CBC also bind to other neurotransmitters in the body that regulate different functions. CBD has been shown to attach itself to opioid receptors in the body which is why it has been hypothesized that CBD could be used to help mitigate opioid addiction. I believe this hypotheses as my grandfather has had to deal with transitioning off prescription opioids that were prescribed to him! I make sure he has all the CBD he needs!
Where is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is considered a mediator in the central and peripheral nervous systems. CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system. CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells. CBD interacts with your entire body as there are receptors in the brain, gut, lungs, reproductive organs, liver, and elsewhere. Imagine the cannabinoids you have ingested today, swirling around your bloodstream and interacting with every tissue site in the body via neurotransmitters.
How does the Endocannabinoid system work?
As a part of your central nervous system, it is a complicated matrix that we are still understanding as I write this. The easiest way to describe the endocannabinoid system is through the analogy of it as a series of locks and keys. A plant cannabinoid is a key, and the CB receptors are a lock. Sometimes though, certain cannabinoids like CBD are also there to help produce or maintain naturally occuring endocannabinoids currently in your nervous system so they can be utilized when needed. In this case CBD is more of a delegator of responsibilities.
To understand why we are just learning about the Endocannabinoid System?
In 1936, the movie “Reefer Madness” showcased “Marijuana” as a drug that corrupted the minds of its users, enticing them into lust and even murder. The film portrayed users as crazed individuals in the clutches of this relentless drug and society began to demonize cannabis and its consumers. Sounds familiar! One year after the movie’s release, the US government enacted the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, and arrests for possession and sale of untaxed cannabis started. After a brief hemp revolution during World War 2, when hemp was grown for fiber for the war effort, the tax revenue after the war was insufficient, and hemp was again grouped with Marijuana and forgotten about. In 1969 Leary vs. The United States decided that the Marijuana Tax Act was unconstitutional. Following the pattern of the previous three decades, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act under Title Two of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, and again cannabis as a whole was illegal. Since the 1920’s “ganja” or “Marijuana” was considered more of a drug than a medicine by the western world. That mindset continued to permeate into society until well into the 1990’s and even now to an extent. In the 1990’s research was started under US government control hoping to prove cannabis’ damaging effects to the body. What researchers found in 1988 and soon after expanded on was that this system (the endocannabinoid system) exists in our bodies naturally and, through proper regulation and balance, allows us to live our best lives. The natural presence of both endogenous and plant phytocannabinoids is why we want to give people the ability to be more able in their everyday lives. CBD is not a silver bullet, but it helps us balance on the tight-rope of life.
Don’t miss Dr. Rachel Knox, Endocannabinologist and cannabinoid medicine specialist with degrees from Tufts and Duke, deliver a clear and concise introduction to the endocannabinoid system! (@racheldocknox)
Want more? Check out Dr. Ruth Ross, a researcher of molecular pharmacology. Here she is live with the University of Toronto, as she demystifies the endocannabinoid system.