Discovered in 1988, the endocannabinoid system (or ECS) is a relatively new discovery, but a huge step forward for CBD users & understanding why CBD has the effect it does. Much like any other system in your body, it has a specific role which is vital for your body to function how it’s supposed to. Experts believe that the primary role of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis – the stability of your internal environment. This is done by regulating a range of functions and processes such as sleep, mood, appetite, memory, reproduction & fertility. Everyone has an active endocannabinoid system regardless of whether or not you use CBD or cannabis – so everyone can enhance this to get the most out of their bodies!
How does the Endocannabinoid system work?
The endocannabinoid system is made up of three main components:
Endocannabinoids: These are similar to cannabinoids (which naturally occur in the cannabis sativa plant), but are produced by your body. As the ECS is a new discovery, we cannot be certain how many types of endocannabinoid there actually are, but experts have identified two; anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These help keep your internal functions running, and your body produces them as and when they are needed. Some experts believe there is a third key endocannabinoid which is yet to be discovered.
Endocannabinoid receptors: These are found throughout your body, and endocannabinoids bind to them when the ECS needs to respond to a change. There are two main receptors; CB1 (mostly found in the central nervous system i.e. the brain and spinal cord) and CB2 (mostly found in the immune system). Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor, and the effects felt will depend on which endocannabinoid binds, and where in the body the receptor is at the time. Generally, CB1 receptors are used to relieve pain, while binding to a CB2 receptor can show inflammation.
Enzymes: Once the endocannabinoid has binded to the receptor and the ECS has responded to the issue, enzymes break down the endocannabinoid to prevent overcorrection. Fatty acid amide hydrolase breaks down AEA, while monoacylglycerol acid lipase typically breaks down 2-AG.
Functions of the Endocannabinoid System
As the discovery of the ECS is relatively new, experts haven’t yet worked out all of its potential functions. However research has shown that it may be linked to a wide range of processes such as:
- Appetite and digestion
- Chronic pain
- Motor control
- Heart function
- Muscle formation
- Bone growth
- Liver function
- Reproductive system function
- Nerve function
All of these contribute to homeostasis, generally regarded as the endocannabinoid system’s primary function. The ECS does not alter other processes while bringing the body back to homeostasis; one of the reasons it took so long to discover!
How does CBD interact with the ECS?
While THC is believed to bind to receptors, CBD does not do this and instead works either by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down so that they have effects for longer, or by binding to a currently undiscovered receptor. Research is still ongoing to determine the exact ways in which CBD works. However, the effects of CBD are clearly closely linked to the ECS, without having the drawbacks of paranoia and anxiety that THC can produce by binding to receptors within the system.