The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a biological system in our body that naturally responds to the cannabis we consume. It is a complex and relatively new discovery that scientists are still researching. As a result, there are hundreds of videos and articles diving deeper into its complexities. Still, for the average or novice cannabis consumer, this article gives a brief run-through of the ECS, its components, and its relationship to cannabis.
What Is The Endocannabinoid System?
The ECS is a complex cell signaling system that helps the body maintain homeostasis. And for us non-biology experts: Homeostasis is any process or action that helps the body maintain a stable internal environment. Like the nervous and endocrine systems, everyone is born with an ECS. Even if you don’t smoke or consume cannabis your ECS most definitely exists and is active.
Your Endocannabinoid system helps regulate a variety of different bodily functions like:
- Motor Control
- Appetite and Digestion
- Immune Function
- Reproductive System Function
- Skin and Nerve Function
Components Of The ECS
The three components of the ECS are endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that the body naturally produces. The body makes them as needed.
The two known endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-ag). Anandamide is also known as the “bliss” molecule because it produces euphoric effects, and 2-ag plays a role in the circulatory system.
Receptors are throughout the body and bind to cannabinoids to signal the ECS to respond. There are two types of receptors, CB1 and CB2. The central nervous system and the reproductive system are where the CB1 receptors are. The CB2 receptors are not as abundant in the body, but they are in the peripheral nervous system.
The final part is the enzymes. They are responsible for breaking down the endocannabinoids once they have carried out their function in the body. These three components are all regularly in motion. Cannigma gives a great video example of how the ECS works. For example, If you trip and twist your ankle, the body sends out pain signals. Then it produces endocannabinoids and sends them to the area to balance out and reduce the pain.
The Relation Between The Endocannabinboid System & Cannabis
Humans discovered cannabis before scientists found the ECS. So that’s why the name is cannabis forward. The CB1 receptor was the first part of the endocannabinoid system to be discovered back in 1988 by Professor Allyn Howlett and her graduate student William Devane. They found that rat’s brains have a receptor site that responds to THC. This discovery also lets us know that humans aren’t the only ones with an ECS and benefit from cannabis. Since then, it’s been a slow but steady development of other ECS discoveries that lead us to know everything we just discussed.
Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are within the cannabis plant like THC and CBD. There are actually over 100 others. Like endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, when consumed, bind to the receptor sites and tell the ECS to respond. However, each cannabinoid responds to receptors differently. For example, THC mimics anandamide and attaches to the receptors to signal different responses throughout the body.
So since we now know that anandamide produces euphoric effects, and THC mimics that effect, it can help us understand why THC forward products give us that same feel-good feeling, CBD doesn’t have the same effect. Scientists find that it may prevent the endocannabinoids from breaking down, allowing them to impact your body more, which is why you don’t get high from CBD, but it has positive effects on this body.
Why is the ECS important?
The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) puts why the ECS is so essential simply but beautifully:
“The endocannabinoid system, with its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and all of the body’s organs, is literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system we begin to see a mechanism that explains how states of consciousness can promote health or disease.”
The ECS is always at work within us. We can better choose the right cannabis products for an elevated high and better overall well-being by understanding the endocannabinoid system.