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Understanding the Endocannabinoid System

Your body is a complex and incredible machine that contains tons of different processes and systems to keep everything working properly. One such system that was only (relatively) recently discovered is the endocannabinoid system or ECS. The ECS was found in the early 90s, and scientists today are still learning more about it and how it works.

Since the ECS is affected by cannabinoids, which are found naturally in cannabis, there has been more talk about it in recent years. So, let’s dive in and see what this system is all about.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The ECS is a system of three main components – endocannabinoids, enzymes, and receptors. Your body creates endocannabinoids as necessary to help regulate various functions. We’ll discuss these functions more in-depth in the next section, but your ECS helps regulate things like sleep, mood, and memory.

There are two primary endocannabinoids your body produces – anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglyerol. It’s not clear which endocannabinoid does what, nor how many of them your body needs. It just creates them when necessary and dissolves them with enzymes once their work is done.

For endocannabinoids to work, they have to bind to receptors. Receptors are broken into two categories – CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are in the central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are in your peripheral nervous system. You can also find CB2 receptors in immune cells.

When your ECS is working correctly, the body produces endocannabinoids and sends them to the part of the body where they’re needed. For example, when you’re experiencing pain, endocannabinoids can bind to your nervous system to relieve it.

What Bodily Functions Does the ECS Regulate?

Your ECS is in constant use because endocannabinoids can help with a wide array of functions and processes. Since scientists are still trying to understand this system, it’s unclear how much the ECS helps regulate these functions, only that endocannabinoids are part of the equation. Here is a rundown of what your ECS affects:

  • Appetite and Digestion
  • Learning and Memory
  • Sleep
  • Motor Control
  • Liver Function
  • Inflammation
  • Chronic Pain
  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Muscle Formation
  • Bone Growth and Maintenance
  • Reproductive Health
  • Stress
  • Skin and Nerve Functions

How Do CBD and Cannabis Affect the ECS?

Since cannabis contains cannabinoids, it can naturally help the ECS do its job more efficiently. There are two primary cannabinoids present in cannabis – THC and CBD. Because the ECS helps regulate so many internal systems, researchers are trying to figure out how much of an effect these cannabinoids have on the body. Although much more research needs to be done, here’s what we know so far about THC and CBD’s effects:

THC can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, so it’s a pretty powerful component. THC is also the element in cannabis that gives you a high, partly because of how it binds to these receptors. The full effects of THC can shift from one person to the next, depending on how it spreads throughout the body.

For example, one common side effect of smoking marijuana is an increased appetite. This is partly why cannabis is recommended for patients who may be on medication that suppresses hunger. Another side effect may be feelings of paranoia or anxiety since THC can affect your mood and memory. Overall, the effects vary from one person to the next based on how much THC is in the body and how their ECS works.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, binds to the ECS receptors differently from THC. Preliminary research suggests that CBD prevents your body’s endocannabinoids from breaking down instead of binding to receptors directly. Since they stay in your body longer, they can have a more profound effect. Basically, if your body’s ECS isn’t working as efficiently as it should, CBD can help improve its performance.

The Bottom Line

No matter what, the ECS is a vital system that influences your body in many ways. As more research is conducted, the effects of CBD and THC will become better understood. Overall, taking these cannabinoids can potentially improve your ECS, but the results are different for every individual.