endocannabinoid system

What is the endocannabinoid system?

Have you ever wondered why CBD is being studied as a potential remedy so many different conditions? Part of the answer is the endocannabinoid system. But what is the endocannabinoid system?

Let’s take a look at this fascinating aspect of the human anatomy and learn more about the importance of cannabinoids in keeping us healthy.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system is an important physiological system the sole function of which is to establish and maintain human health. Understanding how this system works is key to discovering the mechanisms that connect brain activity and states of physical health and disease. [1]

The endocannabinoid system, or “ECS”, consists of specific cannabinoid receptors found on the surface of cells and the compounds that bind with them, called endocannabinoids, or endogenous cannabinoids.

Scientists have found cannabinoid receptors in all major organs, including the brain, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. When cannabinoid receptors are triggered by cannabinoids, this can produce a variety of effects including modulating pain, inflammation, anxiety, and many other conditions.

What Are Cannabinoids

Cannabinoid compounds are essentially “short-order” neurotransmitters. They help to modulate complex actions within the immune and nervous systems and serve as a biochemical communications system between the brain and the rest body.

Cannabinoids are made from fat-like molecules within cell membranes and are synthesized on-demand. For example, if you have an injury or cut, endocannabinoids are produced to signal the immune system to activate the inflammatory process. In this example, the ECS would also function to signal the immune system to stop the inflammatory process when it’s no longer needed.

Another example of how endocannabinoids facilitate balance is through appetite stimulation and suppression. Feeling hungry? Feeling full or satiated after eating a big meal, or maybe a little sleepy? It’s at least partially the result of cannabinoids.

Health, Wellness, & Endocannabinoids

Instinctual sensations such as hunger are mediated by the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids are produced by neurons. They stimulate the desire to eat. This is especially true for nursing babies who absorb vital cannabinoids from mother’s milk.

Cannabinoids serve to activate the baby’s desire to feed, which will ensure its growth and survival. After eating or nursing, cannabinoids are again utilized to stop the sensations of hunger and to activate the perception of satiation and feeling sedated.

Endocannabinoids produced by the brain also serve other functions, including: [3]

  • Improved mood
  • Memory retention
  • Motivation
  • Reward and pleasure
  • Higher thought processes
  • Motor coordination

Understanding how the endocannabinoid system modulates biochemical activity in the brain and body can give us great insight into how these conditions may arise.

An Imbalanced Endocannabinoid System

What is the endocannabinoid system’s role in maintaining human health?

Mental health, emotional stability, and physical wellness all depend on a balanced and properly functioning endocannabinoid system. An imbalance of endocannabinoids, or the inability to produce the compounds, may lead to illness and disease.

These illnesses may include conditions such as:

  • Eating Disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleeping Disorders
  • Pain Disorders

Similarly, experiences of anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders may also be due to an imbalance of endocannabinoids.

Factors that affect our body’s endocannabinoid production are mostly diet and lifestyle-related, though genetics and environment also play a vital role in endocannabinoid production.

It was cannabis research that first led to the discovery of ECS receptors. Subsequently, this also led researchers to discover and isolate the first endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids, such as Anandamide and 2-AG, are produced naturally by the body. These compounds are utilized to increase or decrease certain activities of the nervous system, immune system, and various organs.

Endocannabinoids such as Anandamide are vital during conception, pregnancy, and nursing. They also play an important role in our experience of pain, appetite, emotional stability, and mood.

These compounds essentially dictate the activity of our bodies’ physiological responses by activating and deactivating important mechanisms such as inflammation, stress and pleasure response, and our perception of pain.

About Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabinoids work by stimulating specialized cannabinoid receptors that are located on cells in organs, tissue, and glands in the body.

Cannabinoid receptors are basically signaling stations that enable communication with other cells in the body. There are two main receptors, CB1 and CB2, or cannabinoid receptors one and two.

CB1 is expressed mainly in the brain and throughout the central nervous system. CB2, however, is intimately correlated with the immune system and the peripheral nervous system. CB2’s greatest area of expression is in the gastrointestinal tract.

Receptor expression is unique to each individual, which is why cannabis will affect everyone differently. Factors that influence receptor expression include genetics, environment, and lifestyle.

For example, those with higher expressions of CB1 in the brain may be more sensitive to psychotropic cannabinoids such as THC than those who have fewer CB1 receptors expressed.

Other Receptors Involved With Cannabinoids

Most of the effects of phytocannabinoids produced by plants and endocannabinoids produced by the body mediate cellular activity through CB1.

But other receptors which have an affinity for cannabinoids are also indirectly involved in facilitating homeostasis – the stable balance between the body’s physical systems. These include G-coupled protein receptors (GPCRs) and the serotonin receptor 5-HT1A. [2]

Researchers are currently investigating the 5-HT1A receptor as a potential target for cannabinoid medicines. These specialized neuro-receptors are a manifold for the biochemical processes that alter emotional stability.

In one study on stress and CBD researchers concluded that:

“CBD, by activating 5-HT1A receptors, can attenuate physiological and behavioral responses to [stress] … CBD could be useful for treating psychiatric disorders thought to involve impairment of stress-coping mechanisms, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.” [2]

Conclusions

The endocannabinoid system regulates everything from heart rate to hunger, body temperature to inflammatory response, and even the way we experience joy and pain.

We still have much to learn about the endocannabinoid system. A deeper understanding of how our bodies utilize CBD oil to help us maintain homeostasis may help us to develop cannabinoid-based therapies for a variety of conditions.

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If you liked “What is the endocannabinoid system?” you may also be interested in our article “What are the potential health benefits of CBD oil?

Sources for “What is the endocannabinoid system?”

  1. Getting High on the Endocannabinoid System. Bradley E. Alger, Ph. D. Cerebrum 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997295/
  2. 5-HT1A receptors are involved in the cannabidiol-induced attenuation of behavioral and cardiovascular responses to acute restraint stress in rats. Leonardo BM Resstel. Br. J. Pharmacol. 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2697769/
  3. Reset.me. Dean Alban. 2016. Web http://reset.me/story/anandamide-putting-the-bliss-molecule-to-work-for-your-brain/
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