In the 1990’s researchers exploring THC, one of the main cannabinoids in cannabis, discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the body. ECS was found to be a complicated cell-signaling system. The ECS system plays a role in regulating a plethora of processes and functions that involve sleep, memory, mood, appetite, and reproduction, and fertility.
Experts continue to study and try to better understand how the ECS works. Everyone has the ECS in your body and it is active even if you don’t use cannabis in any way.
How Does ECS Work?
There are 3 main components involved in the ECS system: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. Endocannabinoids are also referred to as endogenous cannabinoids.
These are molecules that the body makes that are similar to cannabinoids, but they are created by the body.
So far experts have identified two important endocannabinoids called anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).
These endocannabinoids help keep the body’s internal functions running correctly and they are produced as needed. This can make it difficult to determine what the typical levels are for each one.
There are receptors found throughout the body. When endocannabinoids bind to these receptors, it is so the ECS is signaled and needs to take action. The two major endocannabinoid receptors are CB1 receptors and they are found for the most part in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors and they are found for the most part in the peripheral nervous system and especially immune cells.
Either of these receptors can have endocannabinoids bind to them. The effects that transpire from this binding depends on where the receptor is and which endocannabinoid it binds to.
In simpler terms, an endocannabinoid might bind to a CB1 receptor in a nerve in the spine to relieve pain, or they might bind to a CB2 receptor in the immune cells to let the body know there is inflammation going on which is a sign of an autoimmune disorder.
The third component of the ECS is enzymes. Their job is to break down the endocannabinoids after they have completed their function. There are two important enzymes with this responsibility. They are fatty acid amide hydrolase and it will break down AEA.
The second enzyme is monoacylglycerol acid lipase and it is usually responsible for breaking down 2-AG.
What Are The Functions Of The ECS?
As complex as the ECS is, experts are still trying to determine how it all works and what its full range of functions are.
The following are processes that researchers have linked the ECS to thus far:
- Skin and Nerve Function
- Chronic Pain
- Reproductive System Functions
- Liver Function
- Motor Control
- Bone Growth and Remodeling
- Muscle Formation
- Cardiovascular System Function
All of these bodily functions contribute to homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to the stability of the body’s internal environment.
If something occurs in the body such as pain from a fever or an injury, it can throw off the body’s homeostasis and this is when the ECS will kick in to help the body return to its optimum performance.
How Does THC And CBD Work With The ECS?
Tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC, is one of the main cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant, although a very small amount can also be found in hemp.
THC is the cannabinoid that has makes you feel high. When THC enters the body, either through smoking, using a quality vaporizer, or eating it, it binds with the body’s receptors in the same way that endocannabinoids do. It can bind to either the CB1 or the CB2 receptors.
This gives it a broad range of ability to affect the body and the mind. Some effects of THC in the body are pleasurable and some are not. Take anxiety paranoia for example.
People often like the high and euphoric feeling it can give, but hate the anxiety and paranoia that can often accompany it. On the brighter side, THC can also help relieve pain and can stimulate your appetite.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another main cannabinoid in cannabis. It is in both the marijuana and hemp plants. CBD will not make you high as THC does. Even though it won’t make you high, it also has no real bad side effects for most people.
What the experts do know is the CBD does not bind with the CB1 and CB2 receptors like THC does.
Some think that CBD works by preventing the endocannabinoids from becoming broken down allowing it to have more effect on the body, but others think that CBD is binding to a receptor in the body that has yet to be discovered.
Even though how CBD works exactly is still unclear and being debated, research as well as personal testimony by those that use it indicate it does help with pain, nausea, and many other conditions.
What is Endocannabinoid Deficiency?
Some research experts think that the body can sometimes have an endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). Although at this stage it is only a theory, it could be that low levels of endocannabinoids in the body may contribute to or cause some conditions to develop.
Some think this may be why people develop things like irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraines, and other similar issues. It is unclear what causes these types of conditions and they will often resist any kind of treatment.
If it can be scientifically confirmed that CECD might play any part in these conditions, finding a way to target endocannabinoid production could prove to be beneficial.