Everyone knows about the digestive system, the immune system, or the nervous system. Maybe you even remember coloring in worksheets or memorizing flow charts for biology class. So why doesnt the endocannabinoid system ring a bell?

What is it?

Each one of us has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) that is active within our bodies even if you have never used cannabis or CBD before. The ECS was only recently discovered in the 1990s by researchers exploring THC, the well-known cannabinoid that causes the high associated with the cannabis plant. The newly uncovered system was then named after the plant that led to its discovery.

The researchers found that the ECS is a molecular system that plays a big role in regulating a variety of important bodily functions, such as motor control, inflammation, immune response, body temperature, sleep, mood, appetite and digestion, responses to pain and pleasure, memory, reproduction, fertility, and more. The ECS obviously does much more than interact with cannabis or CBD, so what does it do and how?

What is its role in the human body?

The ECS is present throughout the entire human body, and it can even be found actively working in the nervous systems, cells in the brain, and cells in the immune system. The ECS maintains the human body’s internal balance, or its homeostasis. The ECS regulates and balances many different processes in the body, such as immune response, communication between cells, appetite, metabolism, memory, and more. Essentially, the ECS maintains internal homeostasis, which if unbalanced, can lead to majorly debilitating health conditions, such as arthritis, epilepsy, strokes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and glaucoma.

How does it work?

The ECS is comprised of three main components: cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. Through this system of receptors and enzymes that our endocannabinoids interact with, the ECS is able to trigger many beneficial effects.

Endocannabinoids: The human body naturally produces endocannabinoids just like the cannabis plant naturally produces cannabinoids like CBD or THC. An endocannabinoid is essentially a cannabinoid that is naturally produced within the human body. The two key endocannabinoids produced by the body are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoyglyerol (2-AB). These two prominent endocannabinoids seek out and bond with cannabinoid receptors to create an effect that helps the body achieve homeostasis.

Cannabinoids: Cannabinoids are found on the surface of cells, and the two main cannabinoid receptors are CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors deal with motor and cognitive function while CB2 receptors manage neuroprotection and neuroinflammation. CB1 receptors are largely found in the central nervous system and regulate a variety of brain functions while CB2 receptors are found on immune cells traveling throughout the bloodstream.

Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor, and the resulting effect depends on where in the body the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to. For example, endocannabinoids could seek out CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain or CB2 receptors on immune cells to signal that the body is experiencing inflammation.

Enzymes: Enzymes are biological proteins that act as catalysts, and the enzymes in the ECS are responsible for breaking down the endocannabinoids once they have completed their function in order to prevent excess build up.

How does it interact with CBD?

Since our body’s native cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) are so similar to the ones found in the cannabis plant, plant-based cannabinoids like CBD can interact with and bind to the cannabinoid receptors in our ECS. As a result, CBD can help induce a variety of beneficial effects once it binds to the CB1 receptors found in the brain and central nervous system or to the CB2 receptors in the immune system and the rest of the body. CBD’s interaction with the ECS can alleviate anxiety and depression, muscle spasms, chronic pain, and inflammation.

Let’s take a closer look at how CBD interacts with the ECS on a biological level. CBD naturally increases the body’s amount of anandamine (AEA), one of our body’s key endocannabinoids that has a calming effect. CBD increases the amount of AEA in the body by reducing the amount of enzymes, which typically break down and stop AEA’s build up in the body. With the influx of calming AEA built up in the body, CBD naturally works with our ECS to combat anxiety disorders.

CBD is only one substance, yet it offers myriads of possibilities for the body. The fact that the study of a plant led to the discovery of a whole new, complex system within the human body is astounding enough, but the additional knowledge of the plant’s ability to then engage advantageously with the system is even more unbelievable. The discovery of the ECS is still young, and there are sure to be more fascinating findings to come.

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