What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The Endocannabinoid System is a collection of cell receptors and their corresponding molecules. These receptors work like key locks on the surface of your cells. The keys to these locks are chemical molecules known as agonists. When an agonist binds to a cell it sends a message with specific directions to the cells.
The endocannabinoid system is the name of a series of cell receptors that work in correlation with a specific type of agonist. In the ECS there are two primary cell receptors, the Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CB1) and Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2). These receptors respond to endocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids are our bodies natural THC. The name endocannabinoid itself comes from cannabis. Endo means within, while cannabinoid refers to a compound that fits into the receptor.
The two main endocannabinoid molecules are Anandamide and 2-AG. Thanks to THC, we were able to discover the existence of Anadamide. Psychoactive (THC) was first discovered by Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam back in the 1960s. This quickly led to an all out race for dominance in the field of cannabis research.
20 years of research later and Andadamide was discovered. The name itself comes from Sanskrit, where the word Ananda means bliss. Yup that’s right, even science agrees THC makes you happy.
What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?
Cannabinoid receptors are found though out your body, playing a huge role in proper bodily function.
Cannabinoid receptors are found all throughout the body, giving them a wide variety of functions. However, certain receptors are more concentrated in specific regions. CB1 receptors are abundant in the central nervous system. CB2 receptors are more often found on immune cells, in the gastrointestinal tract, and in the peripheral nervous system.
The diversity of receptor locations shows just how important endocannabinoids are for day-to-day bodily function. They help regulate the following:
- Appetite, digestion, hunger
- Motor control
- Immune function
- Reproduction and fertility
- Pleasure and reward
- Temperature regulation
Endocannabinoids are the chemical messengers that tell your body to get these processes moving and when to stop. They help maintain optimal balance in the body, also known as homeostasis. When the ECS is disrupted, any one of these things can fall out of balance. imbalance in the ECS is thought to contribute to a wide variety of conditions, including fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.
The ECS theory of disease is termed “Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency“. The idea is simple: when the body does not produce enough endocannabinoids or cannot regulate them properly, you are more susceptible to illnesses that affect one or several of the functions listed above.
Where do Endocannabinoids Come From?
If your body cannot produce enough endocannabinoids, you might be in for some trouble. But, where do endocannabinoids come from, anyway? This question has another simple answer: diet.
Your body creates endocannabinoids with the help of fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for this. Recent research in animal models has found a connection between diets low in omega-3s and mood changes caused by poor endocannabinoid regulation.
Fortunately, hemp seeds are a quality source of omgea-3s. However, fish like salmon and sardines produce a form of omega-3s that is easier for your body to put to use.
Beyond Cell Receptors
Cannabinoid receptors are often what we associate with the endocannabinoid system. But, the ECS is more complicated than that. Enzymes also have a crucial role to play in the process. In a way, enzymes are kind of like Pacman. They gobble up various compounds, change them, and then spit out the parts. In the ECS, enzymes break down leftover endocannabinoids. Enter non-psychoactive CBD.
While THC binds with cannabinoid receptors directly, CBD does not. Instead, it works it’s magic on an enzyme. The enzyme in question is called FAAH, and it is responsible for pulling excess anandamide out of circulation.
This is just a brief overview of the endocannabinoid system. Each year, new studies shed light into what this amazing network does inside our bodies. The discovery of the ECS is what makes medical cannabis such a big deal.
People often joke about the herb’s ability to heal a wide variety of seemingly unrelated conditions. But, we now understand that these conditions are all regulated in part by the ECS. The medical implications of this finding are endless.