While many people enjoy Cannabis products and activities, few realize that our bodies are naturally equipped to accept cannabinoids thanks to the Endocannabinoid System. Cannabinoids are nothing more than the chemical compounds that make up cannabis. So, then, what exactly is the Endocannabinoid System and what is its importance?
What is the Endocannabinoid System
In the 1990s, scientists discovered that the body produced compounds that looked very similar to the cannabinoids found in cannabis. In the plant, those cannabinoids are called phytocannabinoids. In the human body, they're called endocannabinoids. Those same scientists found something exceptionally interesting: cannabis exerts its psychoactive and physical effects partly by mimicking and interacting with a complex cell-signaling system within the human body. That system was aptly named after the plant that led to its discovery and is now known as the Endocannabinoid System.
The Endocannabinoid System is a biological system that is composed of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. The ECS is believed to regulate many different functions in humans such as sleep, appetite, mood, and pain. Studies have found that this system helps the body maintain homeostasis, achieving an equilibrium so that cells can perform at optimum levels.
Studies show that the endocannabinoid system may have evolved over 500 million years. In fact, all vertebrates produce endocannabinoids - this means that mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles all produce them. First thought to only be in the brain, endocannabinoid receptors are in fact found throughout the body in skin, glands, organs, and connective tissue.
The Importance of the Endocannabinoid System
The main function of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis in the body. This means that the Endocannabinoid System works to stabilize the balance in the human body in the face of environmental stresses and changes. It is responsible for a myriad of the body’s biological functions such as regulating:
There are two types of endocannabinoid receptors: CB1, which are found in the central nervous system, and CB2, which is found mostly in your peripheral nervous systems such as immune cells.
The body’s ability to maintain homeostasis and balance is critical: disturbances to the body’s equilibrium left uncorrected can bring on a host of diseases and health impairments. For example, if you have a fever that throws off your body’s internal balance, then your Endocannabinoid System kicks in to help the body return back to homeostasis. Endocannabinoids are proving to be a critical, and versatile, signaling molecule in the human body.
THC and the Endocannabinoid System
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the main cannabinoids that is found in cannabis and is the chemical compound responsible for giving you a high and psychotropic effect. When THC enters the body, the THC molecules interact with your Endocannabinoid System by binding to the receptors. THC is particularly powerful when it interacts with the ECS because it can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, affecting both your body and mind.
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another cannabinoid that is found in cannabis. CBD has become extraordinarily popular due to the changing legalities around hemp and its many positive effects. There is less than 0.3% THC in hemp so it does not get you high, and thanks to the versatile nature of the hemp plant, it has many different uses including in products for wellness and care.
So, how does CBD affect the Endocannabinoid System? For starters, CBD does not bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors like THC does. But recent evidence shows that the ECS both recognizes and responds to CBD. The effects of CBD therefore are that of an indirect nature rather than a direct nature. CBD activates receptors in the body that regulate pain, temperature, and inflammation. Therefore, many individuals seek CBD to aid in a variety of physical and psychological ailments.
The Endocannabinoid System is recognizably the most important system in our bodies for moderating the function of important organs (brain, lungs, spleen) and other systems (immune system, vascular system). As researchers and scientists continue to discover the many different ways that the Endocannabinoid System works for us, they are also uncovering the incredible effects that cannabinoids could have on the system. Understanding this interplay can ultimately help create more ways of improving our well-being and overall health.