In the last twenty-five years, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) has emerged as an important system in the activity and regulation of the central nervous system (CNS) and the body’s internal environment. Scientists refer to this as the neuromodulatory quality of the endocannabinoid system. We know, we know — all of this sounds a bit (or, a lot) confusing. So, let’s break it down: what is the endocannabinoid system, and what the heck does it do?

Don’t Know What the Endocannabinoid System Is?

If you’ve never heard this term, you’re not alone. It is relatively new to science, and there’s a lot about it we don’t know yet. However, scientists are hard at work trying to study its functions and workings, helping to fully understand the roles and responsibilities of this multifaceted system. 

In the 90s, scientists researching tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – a key component of cannabis – discovered a complex cell-signaling system that came to be known as the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system comprises cannabinoid receptors, endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), and the enzymes responsible for synthesizing and degrading the endocannabinoids, which are the natural cannabinoids our body produces.

Despite the significant role the endocannabinoid system plays in the body because scientists only discovered it recently, they are still actively studying the ECS. From the findings so far, it appears the ECS may be involved in regulating physiological and cognitive processes such as sleep, appetite, fertility, memory, and mood. The endocannabinoid system regulates and balances many functions in the body, and it has been linked to pathological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Multiple sclerosis. 

Whether you use cannabis or not, the endocannabinoid system is still present and active in your body.

The Endocannabinoid System and How it Works
The Endocannabinoid System Diagram

How Does The Endocannabinoid System Work?

As stated earlier, the endocannabinoid system consists of three components – the endocannabinoids, receptors, and the enzymes responsible for the synthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids. Let’s take a look at these components.

Endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids – short for “endogenous cannabinoids” – are molecules produced by your body. More so, they act as neurotransmitters or chemical messengers in the body that carry signals between nerve cells. Endocannabinoids are similar to the cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, only your body makes them. Of course, the term “endo” refers to “within,” as in “within the body.” 

Experts have identified two endocannabinoids – Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). These two aid the smooth running of the body’s internal functions. However, it has been observed that the body produces them when needed, making it difficult to know how much the body produces precisely.

According to experts, there may be more cannabinoids in the body, but they’ve yet to discover them. 

Receptors

You’ll find cannabinoid receptors on the surface of cells all over the body. When endocannabinoids bind or attach to them, it signals that the endocannabinoid system needs to take action. 

The two primary receptors present in the body are: 

  • CB1 receptors: Mostly found in the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord.
  • CB2 receptors: Mostly found in the peripheral nervous system and immune system.

Endocannabinoids can attach to either receptor, and the resultant effect depends on the location of the receptor in the body and which receptor it binds to. For instance, endocannabinoids may bind to cells in the central nervous system to relieve pain in the spinal cord or attach to cells in the immune system, sending a message that the body is experiencing an immune response.

Enzymes 

After endocannabinoids have carried out the required response, enzymes break them down. The two main enzymes responsible for breaking down cannabinoids are: 

  • Fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA
  • Monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG.

How Does the Body Make and Use Endocannabinoids?

Endocannabinoids are produced naturally in the body, and you can find them in various organs and tissues, such as the muscle, brain, and circulating cells. Experts are still studying the precise mechanism that triggers the production and deployment of endocannabinoids. However, they believe that when a system in the body is out of balance, the receptors bind to the cannabinoids to help correct the problem.

The endocannabinoid system works in a very precise manner; when a function in the body is out of order, the endocannabinoid system swings into action and repairs that function without altering other processes. 

What Does the Endocannabinoid System Have to Do With Cannabis?

Study and research into the therapeutic benefits of cannabis are ongoing, but some positive effects have been identified. THC and CBD are the two primary chemical compounds abundant in the cannabis plant. So, how do these cannabinoids interact with the ECS? Do they provide any benefits? Let’s get into it.

How Does The ECS Interact With THC?

THC is the compound responsible for the “high feeling” you get when you consume cannabis. Just like endocannabinoids, THC can bind to receptors all over your body – both CB1 and CB2 receptors found in the nervous and immune systems. This means that it can travel on these receptors to pain sites and act as pain relief, all while boosting the mood and working to induce waves of euphoria. Additionally, it can stimulate appetite, leaving you able to eat more than you have in a while. 

Because of THC’s ability to actually bind to both of these cannabinoid receptors, the compound has the function to truly support myriad biological functions. THC is one of the few cannabinoids we know of that has this kind of ability. And, trust us, it’s something that scientists are actively looking into every day.

How Does the ECS Interact With CBD? 

Unlike THC, CBD does not cause you to feel high; its effects tend to be therapeutic. This is because CBD doesn’t bind to receptors the way THC does. Instead, it works by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down, allowing them to have more effect on your body. Essentially, CBD acts as a temporary solution or a kind of makeshift endocannabinoid, providing you with an extra dose of support. Sometimes, this is just what your body needs to start producing what it requires on its own. This is why many people turn to consistent CBD consumption: its ability to help the body reach and maintain homeostasis through the ECS is truly remarkable. (But, we’ll talk about that more in a moment.)

Researchers are still studying the details of the specific activities of CBD in the endocannabinoid system. Still, they suggest that CBD can help with pain, nausea, and other symptoms associated with multiple conditions. 

Functions of the ECS

Though scientists are still studying the ECS, research suggests the endocannabinoid system is a key player in achieving homeostasis. Homeostasis is how the body keeps its internal environment balanced to promote proper functioning. Experts believe that if this falls out of normal range, the ECS works to repair the defect, preventing further damage.  More so, the endocannabinoid may help regulate sleep, metabolism, learning and memory, cardiovascular function, motor control, appetite and digestion, inflammation and other immune responses, and stress.

What is the Endocannabinoid System? We’re Still Learning! 

We have yet to discover all there is to know about the endocannabinoid system. Nonetheless, we know that it plays a vital role in keeping us healthy through internal regulation and balance. In the cannabis community, we believe the ECS holds many promises for therapy as scientists uncover more of the interesting effects of this system. 

At Elevate Holistics, we are committed to improving health and wellness using the best products nature has to offer. We believe that the therapeutic gifts of cannabis should be accessible to everyone who needs it, or whether you think you qualify or not. Elevate Holistics is here to help you get your medical marijuana card and set you on the path to wholesomeness. Interested in finding out more? Check out our MMJ how-to pages here, or book an appointment with us down below. (Don’t worry — it’s all online.)