Endocannabinoid System (ECS): How does it work? And how does it relate to cannabis?
Knowledge is power. Being educated about what we put in our bodies is a good thing and that should extend to cannabis. Many of us research how something works and how it is going to affect us before we give it a try. This is why Miss Envy has started an education portal on our website. The goal is to educate potential users on the effects of cannabis and CBD. It also aims to inform consumers how cannabis can be used to treat many ailments and medical conditions. When we read about the effects of cannabis and CBD on our bodies we hear about how it interacts with our endocannabinoid system. We didn’t learn about this in school and to many, it sounds made up. So, let’s talk about the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and how it works.
Why is it called the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system was only discovered in the 1990s. So, we are still in the early stages of discovery. Interestingly, the endocannabinoid system was discovered mostly by accident. The scientist’s goal, at the time, was to determine how THC affects the brain. In the process, they found cannabinoid receptors (where the THC was attaching). From this they concluded there must be naturally occurring cannabinoids in our bodies. So, if you thought the endocannabinoid system sounded made up it’s because it is. The endocannabinoid system was named after cannabis (source).
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for helping the body to maintain homeostasis (a natural balance). It’s comprised of three parts; endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. We will explore each of them here.
- Endocannabinoids are compounds that interact with receptors throughout the body. They are naturally occurring in our bodies.
- There are two major endocannabinoids: Anandamide and 2-AG.
- They are made from fat-like molecules within cell membranes and are made only when needed.
- Cannabinoid receptors are located on the cell membranes and react to endocannabinoids in our bodies. They tell the ECS to respond in a particular way.
The first two cannabinoid receptors to be discovered were C1 and C2. These two are the ones you are most likely to read about in your research on the effects of cannabis.
- C1 receptors are found in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). They are thought to be responsible for the experience of the psychoactive high associated with THC.
- C2 receptors are found throughout the body, including in the immune system. It appears they do not create psychoactive effects but provide information that helps to reduce inflammation and tissue damage, improve metabolism, signal the sensitivity (flow) of insulin through the body, energy balance, and satiety.
- Enzymes are present to breakdown endocannabinoids once they have performed their function and are no longer needed in the body.
- The two major enzymes are:
- FAAH, which breaks down anandamide
- MAGL, which breaks down 2-AG.
- The two major enzymes are:
How Does Cannabis Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?
We are still learning about how cannabinoids that are not produced by our bodies interact with our endocannabinoid system. Though, we do know that cannabis interacts with the ECS by binding to the receptors, which will have different effects depending on what part of the body the receptor is in. Cannabis, particularly CBD, also interacts with the enzymes that break down natural endocannabinoids. This means that there is an increase in the levels of these natural endocannabinoids.
Since there are receptors involved in the ECS all over our bodies cannabis and CBD have the potential to have positive impacts on most, if not all, of our systems. This is why the list of ailments that cannabis and CBD are thought to affect is continuing to grow.
As the research continues to develop in this area we will have a greater understanding of the ECS as well as how cannabis interacts with it. The more knowledge we have the better we will be able to use CBD to treat various ailments and medical conditions with confidence. Check out our growing education portal on our website for more specific information on what the research says about cannabis and CBD and many medical conditions.
How CBD works
CBD helps to bring back the balance in our bodies. Research reveals that when CBD binds with the CB1 or CB2 receptors, it alters and/or improves the capabilities of that receptor. Therefore, improving the functionality of the receptor. Which in turn improves the overall functioning of the system the receptor is found in.
Additionally, if the body suffers from cannabinoid deficiency, administering CBD can help equalize the deficiency. Studies suggest that cannabinoids are a finite resource, and a deficiency can result in headaches, irritability, and other health issues.
We keep coming back to the topic of balance (or homeostasis), why is this so important? When you think about it, unbalance in the body is one of the main causes of health problems. When there is too much, or too little of something in the body is disrupts the natural balance. Think about anxiety and our stress response for example. Anxiety and stress are our bodies response to a real or perceived threat. In response, the body produces cortisol to prepare us to respond to the threat. When there is too much cortisol in our system, particularly when there is no immediate threat, we feel anxious and stressed. CBD combats stress by regulating how your brain responds to stress signals and maintaining more balanced cortisol levels.
Quantification of brain endocannabinoid levels: methods, interpretations, and pitfalls: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2931546/
Cannabinoid receptors: where they are and what they do: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18426493
Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5576607/
The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2241751/