Curiously enough, just like we don’t have to know how an engine works in order to drive a car, our bodies operate without us having to memorize the instruction manual. That being said, let’s entertain our inner nerds for a moment and take a glimpse under the proverbial hood to learn about one underexplained system in our bodies: the endocannabinoid system.
The body is comprised of a series of systems that work together to serve common goals such as survival, reproduction and growth. Chances are you’ve heard of some of the body’s more common systems, such as the circulatory system, the digestive system, the nervous system, the reproductive system, the skeletal system and so on. While there are a dozen main systems hard at work in our body at all times, in 1992 yet another system was discovered: the endocannabinoid system. Let’s take a closer look into what exactly the endocannabinoid system is and what it does.
Simply put, the endocannabinoid system plays an important role in the human body when it comes to interacting with the cannabis plant. Yes, you read that correctly. The human body is biologically designed to interact with chemical components naturally found in the cannabis plant, something that for decades has been subject to societal stigma and is still even punishable by federal law in the United States. While the legislative landscape works to evolve and catch up with science, the discovery of the endocannabinoid system remains a colossal one that we’re continuously learning more about with every passing day.
The human body is biologically designed to interact with chemical components naturally found in the cannabis plant, something that for decades has been subject to societal stigma and is still even punishable by federal law in the United States.
While deeper research surrounding the ECS is conducted, what we do know is this: First, taking a look at the name itself helps provide introductory insight. The word “endocannabinoid” can be broken down into “endo” and “cannabinoid.” “Endo” is short for “endogenous,” which means it is naturally produced in the body. Secondly, “cannabinoid” comes from “cannabis,” meaning that the system was named after the plant itself. In other words, “endocannabinoid” means that cannabis-like substances are naturally produced by the human body. This helps explain why the body responds to different compounds found in the cannabis plant, such as THC or CBD. These compounds were first isolated by Raphael Mechoulam, who is also known as the Father of Medical Cannabis, with his 1960 findings that helped spark an interest in how these cannabinoids work in the body.
To take it a step further, the ECS is comprised of three parts: endocannabinoids, receptors in the nervous system that react and respond to endocannabinoids and cannabinoids, and enzymes that help break down both endocannabinoids and cannabinoids. Each cell in the body has many receptors, which are activated by compounds that are specific to them. Just like serotonin and dopamine are activated by serotonin receptors and dopamine receptors respectively, the same is true of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. It is helpful to think of this system as a metaphorical lock and key system found throughout the body, with this system being engaged on a daily basis.
It is helpful to think of this system as a metaphorical lock and key system found throughout the body, with this system being engaged on a daily basis.
The body’s endocannabinoid system is made up of CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are activated by two main endocannabinoids, anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). While all of this can be a lot to take inventory of and process, picturing the body having these receptors can help us make sense of it. There are cannabinoid receptors found all over the body, such as in the brain, the immune system, the nervous system and even the skin. In fact, the ECS is commonly referred to as the “master regulatory system,” because it is present seemingly everywhere throughout the body. Factoring in how the ECS plays a role in many physiological processes—such as sleep, memory, mood, appetite, emotional responses, the sensation of pain and more—it starts to make sense that CBD and THC also serve more than one purpose.
The endocannabinoid system is an integral part of the body with multiple moving parts. In addition to being responsible for a variety of important functions, it also plays a role in maintaining homeostasis, which is the body’s ability to maintain stability and balance despite being subject to changes. A common example of this is how the body works to maintain an average temperature of 98.6 degrees.
Understanding the endocannabinoid system is key to understanding how CBD and THC can work in our favor when it comes to treating a variety of ailments and helping our bodies maintain their natural orders. While there’s so much more to learn, developing a better understanding of the ECS and CBD will further advance how we can use it to combat everything from cancer to anxiety to our overall well-being.