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Your Endocannabinoid System

Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in the human body - Everything you need to know

 

WHAT IS THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is located primarily in the central nervous system, however, is also found throughout the body in the peripheral nervous systems. The ECS functions to modulate a variety of different responses, ranging from immune system control to hormone release. These functions explain the benefits CBD can offer: anti-stress, anti-anxiety, muscle & joint soothing, appetite stimulation (just to name a few!). We like to think of the ECS as the Ying and Yang of the body – helping balance out any negative feelings we might have.

In order to maintain this balance, the ECS helps regulates physical and emotional processes like appetite and mood. It does this by creating a specific biological response through neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids. Simply put, neurotransmitters can be thought of as “chemical commands” that cells release to ‘tell’ each other what to do.

The net effect of these commands is called endocannabinoid tone. At resting level, the body releases neurotransmitter continuously at low concentrations, this is described as having tonic activity. Cannabinoid receptors, which endocannabinoid molecules bind to, are constantly activated by a low-level production of anandamide (endocannabinoid pre-cursor).

When your body detects deviation from an equilibrium of a physiological response, for example, a normal muscle which has now become inflamed, the ECS springs into action. It will naturally synthesize endocannabinoids and distribute them to their respected targets to act to counter this inflammation. This is how the ECS is able to maintain balance when a response is needed to be altered.

Unfortunately, this system is not perfected, in the sense, it is impossible for us to physically produce the adequate amount of endocannabinoids needed to feel a significant benefit. Hence the need to take additional CBD as supplements to our diet.  

DO I HAVE AN ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM?

All mammals have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). Its discovery has been a 40-year journey, and more is uncovered every day. Researchers discovered the endocannabinoid system while attempting to pinpoint exactly how THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis, produces its effects.

What they have learned over the years is that the ECS is a signaling system that allows our cells and organs to communicate with each other in order to balance overall activity and energy consumption. This results in what we call homeostasis: a healthy state of balance within our body.

WHAT IS HOMEOSTASIS?

Homeostasis is the process in which our body aims to maintain a constant internal environment.

The term is very broad. Let’s break it down…

Homeostasis refers to general organism regulatory factors, such as body temperature, emotional balance, digestive control, and immune systems regulation - which may be affected by the external environment.

It also refers to specific cellular factors like oxidative stress (OS), which if left untreated can cause a number of diseases. OS can be induced by the activity levels of other cells in the immediate vicinity.

The endocannabinoid system – a complex, scaled communication network – maintains homeostasis and balance across the different systems of our body.

WHAT ARE ENDOCANNABINOIDS?

Endocannabinoids are chemical messengers.

The word endocannabinoid means “cannabinoid produced inside”; it refers to cannabinoids that are produced inside our bodies.

Endocannabinoids are signaling molecules used by almost all of our cells.

Chemical signals are released by one cell in order to produce some effect in a nearby cell. 

Every chemical signal has a predictable and consistent effect depending on cell-type and chemical environment. Think of it like this: when you use a remote control to turn on the TV you press the power button, but it doesn’t affect the volume or the menu because there are different buttons for those actions. Similarly, different neurotransmitters act on some pathways better than others.

The process of cellular communication involves chemical signals and the receptors which they act on. In the ECS, there are 5 relatively known endocannabinoids, although ‘2-AG’ and ‘anandamide’ are the most well-thought-of.

A cell will release endocannabinoids to alter the activity levels of a nearby cell which has changed in some way from its normal resting equilibrium state.

To think of this relationship, imagine a teacher giving information to her students. If she suddenly starts speaking too fast, the students will ask her to slow down back to a normal pace. If the teacher and her students were cells in our body, the endocannabinoid system would be the students’ ability to ask the teacher to slow back down, the teacher’s speech is now reverting back to a normal pace - a balanced equilibrium. The students effectively responded to and regulated the change from the talking speed equilibrium.

If this ability is hampered in some way, then students will have problems in their understanding of the knowledge. Similarly, when the ECS fails to allow cells to communicate, health problems arise.

WHAT IS ENDOCANNABINOID DEFICIENCY?

When the ECS becomes underactive, endocannabinoid effects are weaker and can no longer promote homeostasis.

Without the ECS to maintain balance, systems of the body begin to malfunction. This condition is called Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD).

CECD leads to many common health problems that seem to arise without a cause.

CECD Symptoms Can Include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Arthritis
  • Fatigue
  • Inflammation
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Depression and other mood disorders