What is the Endocannabinoid System? A Brief Overview - Regenefi

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What is the Endocannabinoid System? What We Know (So Far)

October 1, 2018

The endocannabinoid system is the most recently discovered body system. Therefore, we know the least about it. In this article, we discuss: what is the endocannabinoid system? What is its function? How does this system work in the body? What is a cannabinoid? What about an endocannabinoid? And how do these work with our body’s ECS?

You can’t say nothing good ever came from smoking pot! In 1992, researchers Raphael Mechoulam, and the team of NIMH researchers Dr. Lumir Hanus and William Devane, first stumbled upon the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) while researching the effects of THC. In their quest to unlock the benefits of marijuana, they discovered a remarkably complex network of cannabinoid receptors (CBr) expressed in cells throughout the body.

So, why didn’t you ever learn about this body system in school? Because scientists have only known about its existence for a little over 25 years now. Still, they know very little about this system’s vital role in regulating physiological body functions. Only now more research is being conducted to better understand the ECS.

Let’s dive a little more into what exactly the Endocannabinoid System is, what comprises this system and its role in the body.

What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

For a full understanding of what the endocannabinoid system is and does in the body, watch the video above.

As stated previously, the ECS is primarily responsible for regulating various physiological functions in the body and maintaining a state of homeostasis, or balance, in the body.

In order to regulate and bring the body to a point of homeostasis, the ECS is comprised of three working parts:

  • Cannabinoid receptors, like CB-1 and CB-2 receptors, exist on the surface of cells.
  • Endocannabinoids, the small molecules that activate cannabinoid receptors, occur naturally in the body and plants, such as hemp.
  • Metabolic enzymes break down endocannabinoids after they are used.

To understand how these parts work together to form the ECS, we have to dive a little deeper into what each is and the role it plays.

What Role Does the ECS Play in our Bodies?

How the Endocannabinoid System Works

Scientists don’t have a full-fledged understanding of exactly all the ECS accomplishes, but they do know it’s absolutely crucial in fine-tuning most of our vital physiological functions. It helps bring your body to a state of balance, or homeostasis. The easiest way to think about this is by thinking about Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks didn’t want her porridge to be too hot or too cold, but just right.

Similarly, our body systems and functions are always working to keep our bodies in a state of feeling “just right.” Our body temperature shouldn’t be too hot or too cold; our metabolism shouldn’t be too fast or too slow; our blood pressure shouldn’t be too high or too low. This is the job of the ECS – to keep us feeling just right. It ensures all our major body systems work in concert with one another.

The ECS is one big communication system in our bodies, the largest and most important ways our body communicates with itself.

Your ECS regulates important bodily functions, responsible for things like:

  • Appetite
  • Digestion
  • Immune system
  • Inflammation, neuroinflammation
  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Reproduction/fertility/pregnancy
  • Motor control
  • Temperature regulation
  • Memory
  • Pain
  • Pleasure/reward

In order to regulate so many body functions, your ECS has cannabinoid receptors, as we discussed previously, around your body that interact with the endocannabinoids your body naturally produces. With such a large influence on body function, it’s no wonder the ECS plays a major role when it comes to various diseases. Scientists don’t understand all of the ways in which the endocannabinoid system affects many of these diseases, but they do know they are linked in some way. They observed changes in ECS activity in diseases ranging from neurodegenerative disorders to rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. All of these ailments show changes in endocannabinoid levels and greater receptor expression. Could the ECS be the key for restoring the body’s balance and promoting good health?

Now that you understand what the ECS is and its role in the body, let’s dive deeper into the parts that make up the body’s complex communication system: cannabinoids, receptors and metabolic enzymes.

What is a Cannabinoid?

To understand how the endocannabinoid system functions internally, you need a clear understanding of exactly what a “cannabinoid” is. 

Health Benefits of Cannabinoids in Hemp Plant

Cannabinoids are molecules located, most notably, in Cannabis plants. “Cannabinoid” refers to the particular molecular structure of the chemical compound. For this discussion, it’s important to distinguish between two different types of cannabinoids: phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids

As the name suggests, phytocannabinoids are the active chemical compounds present in Cannabis plants (hemp). The cannabinoid THC-A is a prime example of one type of phytocannabinoid.

However, endocannabinoids occur naturally in the human body. Anandamide, the “bliss molecule,” is one endocannabinoid; 2-AG is another example.

Over 100 phytocannabinoids exist identified across all species of cannabis. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most popular phytocannabinoids. Both produce powerful effects in the human body once ingested (although those effects are quite different in nature). Once the body absorbs phytocannabinoids, they hit the bloodstream and bind to cannabinoid receptors. They encourage the body to actually produce more receptors, improving and strengthening cell communication. Better communication means your body and major systems are all working succinctly together, maintaining balance and functioning efficiently. Most of CBD’s therapeutic effects are actually carried out by our own endocannabinoid systems. CBD just promotes the normal functioning of this system.

The Role of Receptors and Enzymes

CB-1 and CB-2 receptors are located in cells throughout your body. Cannabinoid receptors type 1 (CB-1) are located in the brain. Cannabinoid receptors type 2 (CB-2) are primarily located in the immune system, digestive system (gastrointestinal tract) and the body’s major organs. Cannabinoids act as “keys” for these receptors, activating receptors as they travel through your body. Different cannabinoids act on receptors and enzymes differently, producing different results. In the brain, cannabinoids and endocannabinoids work as neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers delivering information from one cell to the next. Neurotransmitters interact with a lot of different receptors and thus, produce different effects.

Endocannabinoid system receptors are the most abundant neuromodulatory receptors (neurons that use enzymes to communicate with a variety of other neurons) in the body. It’s believed there are more ECS receptors in the body than all other neuromodulatory receptors combined. This includes neurotransmitter receptors like serotonin and dopamine. Anandamide itself possesses the most receptors in the brain. It’s critical for maintaining a healthy central nervous system. The ECS is an extremely influential, powerful body system.

In order to understand how cannabinoid receptors and metabolic enzymes work, let’s start with an example.

Let’s say a person is smoking marijuana. When that person takes a hit of their joint, the cannabinoid THC enters the bloodstream and attaches to the CB-1 receptors in the brain. This alters that person’s state of mind, causing them to feel “high.”

Similarly to THC, one of your own endocannabinoids, anandamide, also attaches to these same CB-1 receptors. Anandamide termed the “bliss molecule,” comes from the Sanskrit ananda, meaning “bliss.” However, instead of getting you high, anandamide has a calming effect on the body. So, why don’t these similar compounds have a similar effect while working on the exact same cannabinoid receptors?

Same Receptors, Different Effects

These cannabinoids interact differently with the enzymes in the body responsible for breaking them down. The FAAH enzyme is responsible for why anandamide doesn’t produce psychoactive effects, while THC does. This enzyme’s job is to break down anandamide and other endocannabinoids. It works very quickly on your body’s natural cannabinoids, but it cannot break down THC in the same way. This means THC sticks around in the body much longer than anandamide and, therefore, produces a greater effect.

As you can tell, cannabinoids interact with receptors located throughout the body and the enzymes responsible for breaking down those cannabinoids. Different cannabinoids produce different effects in the body, and a number of factors can influence those effects. In this way, receptors, cannabinoids and enzymes combine to make up the endocannabinoid system, a powerful system that aids the body in communicating with itself to achieve balance within.

Research shows small doses of natural cannabinoids from hemp and other plants help support the ECS and enhance its signaling. Small, regular doses of naturally occurring phytocannabinoids from hemp, such as our 1000mg Full Spectrum CBD Oil, could act as a tonic to our most central physiologic healing system.

What’s the Most Beneficial Cannabinoid in Existence?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is, scientifically speaking, the most beneficial cannabinoid in terms of healing properties. Extensive pre-clinical research shows CBD has potent antioxidant, anti-tumoral, anti-spasmodic, anti-convulsive, anti-psychotic, and even neuroprotective properties. It directly activates serotonin receptors, combatting anxiety. This is just one example of a whole host of benefits CBD provides to our overall physiological functioning. 

CBD does not produce any psychoactive effects. All of its benefits come without the high of THC. One of its functions in the brain is to inhibit the FAAH enzyme from breaking down anandamide, causing more of it to build up in the body. As a result, anandamide has a longer lasting impact on pain. CBD is beneficial in combatting a whole bunch of ailments and diseases. However, it’s this function that explains why CBD is especially useful in treating anxiety disorders. Quite literally, it makes you feel better for longer. On the other hand, it’s this effect that also causes CBD to interact with some prescription medications, preventing them from breaking down and causing them to build in the bloodstream to toxic levels.

When you combine CBD with other cannabinoids, fatty acids, terpenes, flavonoids and compounds in hemp plants, you maximize the potential health benefits from this powerful little cannabinoid.

Click the links below to discover how CBD affects the following areas:

Cannabidiol CBD molecule

Endocannabinoid Deficiency: Is It Possible?

Now, the existence of the endocannabinoid system explains why natural cannabinoids in hemp have therapeutic effects. Before cannabis prohibition, hemp and marijuana were used for thousands of years to treat a number of ailments, including epilepsy, headaches, arthritis, pain, depression and nausea. Traditional healers didn’t know why the plant worked effectively, but their experience demonstrated its medicinal value. The discovery of the ECS revealed a biological basis for the therapeutic effects of phytocannabinoids, sparking renewed interest in cannabis as medicine.

Research reveals cannabis prohibition led to a bigger health problem. Turns out, Clinical ECS Deficiency Syndrome could be a root cause for many diseases. When the ECS functions properly, all our body systems remain in a state of balance. But what happens when the ECS malfunctions, or is damaged? Scientists found certain conditions associated with hypersensitivity to pain or stimulus, such as migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), could be the result of a dysfunctional ECS. The Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency hypothesis is this idea of the ECS as the root cause of some disorders. By supplementing the body with phytocannabinoids, some believe it’s possible to correct the deficiency and relieve symptoms.

The endocannabinoid system is vital to maintaining good health and could even be at the root cause of some diseases. Did you know the ECS is so important, animals also have one, too?

Yes, Animals have an ECS, too – Dating Back 600 Million Years

Humans are not the only creatures to possess the all-important ECS. All animals – vertebrates and invertebrates – have one, too, which means they can also reap the benefits of cannabinoid supplementation. The most primitive animal found to express cannabinoid receptors is the sea-squirt, an animal that evolved over 600 million years ago. Watch the video above to learn more about the effects of CBD oil on pets.

Other Ways to Get the Most from your ECS and CBD

In addition to supplementing your diet with phytocannabinoids to promote a healthy and properly functioning ECS, exercise and diet also boost this vital system. Scientists found prolonged aerobic exercise increases levels of anandamide, the “feel good” endocannabinoid. Combine this with CBD, which inhibits anandamide’s break down in the body, and you’ll be feeling great for hours after any workout. This means less pain and faster recovery times. Your diet should also be taken into account, as it also boosts endocannabinoid system function. Increasing your intake of the essential fatty acid, Omega 3, helps support endocannabinoid brain signaling.

What is the Endocannabinoid System? The Most Mysterious Body System

Doctors tend to know very little about the endocannabinoid system since it was so recently discovered. This can lead to extremely frustrating discussions with your doctor, especially if you’re interested in trying the ever-more-popular CBD. A 2013 survey conducted by Medical Cannabis Evaluation in Sacramento found that only “13% teach the ECS to future doctors” in the U.S. when asked about whether the ECS was included in medical school curriculum. This means that chances are, you know more about the ECS than your doctor. If you want to discuss your CBD options with your doctor, come prepared with your own research about the ECS and cannabinoids when speaking with your physician.

Although more research needs to be done to fully understand the the Endocannabinoid System, current research shows this system is the most powerful and effective way your body has to communicate. The ECS is responsible for balancing the body and bringing it to a point of homeostasis. Cannabinoids, like CBD, promote the healthy functioning of the ECS, which, in turn, helps regulate other crucial body functions. The ECS could be the key to combatting various diseases and ailments. Supplementing your diet with phytocannabinoids from plants like hemp keep your body running in tip-top shape. Overall, understanding the endocannabinoid system and the function of cannabinoids in the body is crucial for maintaining overall wellness – mind, body and soul.

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FDA Disclaimer: The statements regarding these products are not evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products is not confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products do not diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not a substitute for or alternative to information from healthcare practitioners. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product.


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