Referring to the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) as a hub of key body functionaries wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
The ECS was first recognized in the 1990s during research on how cannabis compounds [particularly THC] interact with the human system.
Just so you know, THC (or Tetrahydrocannabinol) is arguably the most celebrated [and stigmatized] property of marijuana.
You know the controversial ‘high’ cannabis users feel?
That’s THC’s magic!
That said, the Endocannabinoid System (or ECS) is a broad system, such that experts are yet to fully unravel its true workings.
However, so far, research reports show that the ECS plays a key role in regulating several bodily functions, including:
- Fertility and reproduction
The ECS runs in all humans, whether or not you use cannabis.
This article covers:
- How the ECS works – including its key components and their contributions
- Functions of the endocannabinoid system
- ECS’s links with cannabis compounds (primarily CBD and THC)
How Does the ECS Work?
As mentioned, the ECS is a complex system that includes three main components, including:
Let’s briefly discuss these parts individually
This is used to refer to internally produced molecules – otherwise referred to as the endogenous cannabinoids.
Although from different sources, both the internally produced cannabinoids (endocannabinoid) and plant-sourced variants (phytocannabinoids) possess a similar structure.
From research reports so far, there are two major endocannabinoids, namely:
- 2-arachidonoylglycerol 92-AG)
Both variants contribute to the proper functioning of the internal systems. Interestingly, your body is naturally designed to produce adequate levels of these compounds, as needed by the human body.
Endocannabinoid receptors are strategically positioned at critical areas throughout your body.
The endocannabinoids interact with these receptors to activate special functions and modulate their processes.
As with the endocannabinoids, there are two major endocannabinoid receptors: CB 1 and CB2 receptors.
While the CB1 receptors are predominantly stationed around the central nervous system, the CB2 receptors are typically spotted on the immune cells and other peripheral nervous systems.
The endogenous cannabinoids can interact with both receptors. The resultant effect is dependent on the receptors’ location and the particular endocannabinoid that binds to it.
For instance, the endocannabinoids may bind with the CB1 around the spinal nerve and, in turn, help manage pain. Other cannabinoids may interact with the CB2 receptors in the immune cells and send inflammatory signals, which often connote autoimmune defects.
Enzymes serve as catalysts to metabolize the endocannabinoids after they’ve delivered their effects.
As with the endocannabinoids and the receptors, the enzymes are of two main types, namely:
- Monoacylglycerol acid lipase – this enzyme metabolizes 2-AG
- Fatty acid amide hydrolase – responsible for breaking down AEA
What Exactly Does the Endocannabinoid System do?
As mentioned, the endocannabinoid system remains a complex concept – even for researchers.
While there is ongoing research to unveil the exact workings of this network, so far, research reports show a link between the ECS and certain bodily functions, including:
- Chronic pain
- Motor control
- Inflammation and related immunity reactions
- Liver function
- Muscle formation
- Bone growth
- Cardiovascular system function
- Learning and memory
- Reproductive function
- Skin health
These individual functions gang up to ensure homeostasis – a state of total wellness of the body’s internal workings.
For instance, our everyday routine is stress-laden. Such physical and psychological stress can cause depression, anxiety, and other mental and even physical effects like pain and inflammation.
In such a state, the body is termed ‘off homeostasis.’ When this happens, the ECS naturally notices and steps in to help restore the body’s original state of wellness.
Interestingly, research authors attribute a bulk of this state of complete wellness to the ECS.
How Does THC Bind with the Endocannabinoid System?
THC, the ‘high’-causing compound in marijuana, binds with the endocannabinoid receptors – just as with the internally produced cannabinoids.
THC is particularly considered more potent because of its ability to bind to both endocannabinoids receptors – that is, CB1 and CB2.
This interaction triggers a range of effects – from desirable effects like pain relief and appetite boost to less desirable effects like paranoia, anxiety, etc.
That said, researchers are currently exploring possible ways to produce lab-made THC that delivers only the desirable effects.
What’s the Relationship Between CBD and the Endocannabinoid System?
CBD – short for cannabidiol – is the next most popular cannabinoid in cannabis.
CBD, however, has gained a special fast-growing fan-base, primarily among health seekers looking to exploit the much-talked-about cannabis’ therapeutic potentials but without the dreaded headbang.
But like THC, research results suggest CBD contains highly potent properties that look promising for a range of conditions – from inflammation and pain to loss of appetite, cancerous symptoms, arthritis, IBS, and whatnot.
Although researchers are unsure how CBD and ECS interact, they found that the non-psychoactive compound binds to the receptors differently from THC.
Some findings suggest CBD helps prevent the breakdown of endocannabinoids, thereby increasing and sustaining the compound’s effects.
Another school of thought proposes the likelihood of a third yet-to-be-undiscovered receptor, to which CBD binds to create its unique effect.
Although the CBD-ECS relationship is still under research, existing evidence so far suggests CBD may help alleviate a range of conditions, including pain, nausea, lack of appetite, to name only a few.
What Happens When Your Endocannabinoid Level Drops?
The Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) theory posits that low endocannabinoid levels may trigger (or contribute to) a range of health concerns.
A research review that backs this theory concludes that endocannabinoid deficiency may contribute to:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Scientists have found it difficult to trace these conditions to specific underlying causes.
Even worse, too often, these health challenges are treatment-resistant.
If CECD contributes to any of these conditions, targeting and modulating the endocannabinoid system might be a simple way.
The Endocannabinoid System, or ECS, has been linked to several internal bodily functions – and malfunctions.
Research authors suggest that proper functioning of the ECS contributes to homeostasis – a state of complete wholeness of the internal body organ and their functions.
While we await more studies to establish the proper working of the endocannabinoid system, cannabis researchers and experienced users can swear by THC and CBD’s role in modulating several body functions through the Endocannabinoid System.
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