What is the Endocannabinoid System?
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
People consume cannabis in different forms and for a variety of purposes, but many do not know that our bodies would be incapable of interacting with or harnessing the benefits of cannabinoids like THC and CBD if we didn’t have a biological system known as the endocannabinoid system. This system, commonly referred to as the “ECS,” was first discovered by scientists in the early 1990s. To this day, researchers are still working to understand its function and how cannabinoids interact with it. Their discoveries suggest many potential benefits.
What Is the ECS and What Is Its Function?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) helps regulate many body functions and plays an important role in homeostasis. The term “endo” is short for “endogenous,” which refers to substances naturally produced by the body.
The ECS is made up of three main parts:
- Endocannabinoids, which are lipid-based neurotransmitters that bind with cannabinoid receptors
- Cannabinoid receptors, also known as CBRs, with which endocannabinoids bind
- Cannabinoid receptor proteins, which are enzymes that break down endocannabinoids and cannabinoids
This system is vital to maintaining homeostasis throughout the body. Homeostasis is the ability of the body to keep everything from temperature to hydration “just right.” In order for our body systems to perform all of their functions properly, the body must be in homeostasis. The ECS regulates certain bodily functions in order to keep the body in homeostasis. For instance, the ECS keeps the body from getting too hot or too cold by regulating its temperature and keeping it within the narrow window that represents stasis. The ECS also regulates appetite, letting us know that our bodies need sustenance when we are hungry.
Some of the important bodily functions that the ECS regulates include:
- Immune function
- Body temperature
- Reproduction and fertility
Endocannabinoids are like the cannabinoids found in cannabis plants, but they’re produced by your body. They bind to cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body and help your body maintain homeostasis. The two main endocannabinoids that scientists have discovered so far are:
In order to regulate these systems and keep the body in homeostasis, the ECS employs cannabinoid receptors. There may be more than two types of cannabinoid receptors, but the two that have already been identified are:
- CB1 - These are found all throughout the brain and central nervous system. These are also the cannabinoid type that THC binds to when a person smokes or ingests cannabis. These are the receptors that allow the positive feelings associated with a “high.”
- CB2 - These receptors are found on the peripheries of the body, in the peripheral nervous system and other systems like the immune system.
Cannabinoid receptors are found everywhere throughout the body, so they are an exceedingly common type of receptor.
These proteins help break down cannabinoids after the cannabinoids have completed their work. The two enzymes found within the ECS are:
- Monoacylglycerol acid lipase
- Fatty acid amide hydrolase
How Do Cannabinoids Interact with the ECS?
The endocannabinoid system is the main reason that cannabinoids such as THC and CBD have an effect on our bodies. Cannabinoids, including the well-known ones like THC and CBD and lesser-known cannabinoids like CBG, are being studied for use in treating many different human illnesses and ailments. As scientists continue to evaluate the ECS and the potential benefits of different cannabinoids on it, promising new treatments are arising to help treat a variety of medical conditions.