The Endocannabinoid System

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The Highway to Good Health

The Endocannabinoid system (ECS). What is it and what does it do for us? Don’t get confused. Cannabinoids are not only found in plants. As it turns out, the Endocannabinoid System is a critical part of the human body. The ECS was discovered by researchers who were exploring the uses of THC, a compound derived from cannabis – hence the name. 

Did you know that there is a system in our bodies comprised of receptors that interact exclusively with cannabinoids like CBD and THC? 

Back in the 1990s, researchers discovered a set of receptors located in a part of the brain responsible for mental and physiological processes. These include memory, motor coordination and emotion. Later, a second receptor was discovered which allowed researchers to expand on this fascinating field. But this 2nd receptor was not in the brain, it was distributed throughout the immune system and other tissues within the human body. As research continued, we found that these receptors (named CB1 and CB2 receptors), interacted almost exclusively with Cannabis compounds like CBD and THC.

Essentially, what they had done was to discover an entirely new signaling system between Phytocannabinoids (from plants) and Endocannabinoids (within our bodies). This relationship has come to be referred to as the Endocannabinoid System, or ECS.

A Look at the Endocannabinoid System

In order to understand how the ECS works, we need to consider the concept of homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to the regulation of conditions within the body such as body temperature, blood sugar level, water content, and more.

In order for our bodies to properly function there are ranges or conditions under which certain processes need to operate. For example, if your blood pressure is too high, your veins and arteries cannot cope with the force of the blood exerted on them, leading to many ailments and problems. If your brain gets too hot, it cannot send important messages to the rest of the body. Or if your sugar level drops too low, your muscles have no energy to do their job. 

The human body is an impressive piece of work. When something in our external environment changes, the body is capable of responding to it and correcting the imbalance without us even knowing it. Too cold? We begin to shiver, increasing metabolic rates in our muscles and raising the temperature. Too hot? We sweat, and the evaporation of liquid off of our skin lowers the internal temperature. Brilliant isn’t it? This is where the ECS comes in.

Endocannabinoid receptors exist on the surface of the billions of tiny cells in our bodies. They basically “listen” to everything that is going on around them. Once they have their information, they shoot off messages into the cell and the cell then reacts to what is going on around it. Think of the receptors as the “ears” of the cell. The cell reacting to these messages constitutes the action and subsequent process of homeostasis.

As mentioned earlier, there are two cannabinoid receptors in the body:

  • CB1 Receptors – Are concentrated mostly in the brain and throughout the central nervous system. They talk to our “thinking” and “response” cells.
  • CB2 Receptors – Can be found more abundantly in the immune system, organs, and tissues. These receptors communicate with the cells within various organs responsible for maintaining our physical health.

So, where in our Bodies does the ECS Come into play?

We’ve already discussed the ECS’s role in maintaining a good state of homeostasis in the body, but how does this really benefit us, and how important is it really?

Imagine if your car’s engine temperature gauge broke or if your fuel light stopped working. You would never know when your car was overheating or when you were running low on gas. The ECS performs a similar role in the body. Without them, the cells of your body would never know when to react to changes. We’d all soon overheat or crash due to a lack of vital sugar.

 The ECS is one of the most important communications networks in your body. While nerves send messages to the brain, the ECS sends messages to the central nervous system as well as to cells and organs. A veritable information highway. Without a healthy, functioning ECS, researchers hypothesize that we would start to suffer a myriad of detrimental health effects as different parts of the body wouldn’t get the information that they need. 

The ECS plays a critical role in maintaining some of the most important parts of the body. Here are just some of those areas and where a healthy ECS system will maintain their functions:

  • Brain – Improving memory, learning, appetite, and regulating sleep.
  • Liver – Resisting insulin, protecting against fibrosis, and producing healthy fats.
  • Reproductive System – Fertility, embryonic regulation, and development.
  • Heart – All basic functions, maintains open blood vessels, and protects against heart attacks.
  • Muscles – Boosts energy transfer, builds muscle fibers, and regulates their metabolism.
  • Immune System – Increases the system’s ability to identify threats and react to them.

How do cannabinoids like CBD interact with the ECS?

Here’s where things get interesting. How exactly do the compounds in a plant interact with this intricate biological system? We know that there are around 120 cannabinoids present in the Cannabis plant. Each one of these is capable of, in one way or another, interacting with our bodies. The ECS is the “highway”, allowing for this unique interaction.

We all know of the effects that THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) can have on the body. Most of this takes place in the brain where THC has a healthy taste for those CB1 receptors.

These cannabinoids actively seek out the receptors and slot perfectly into them to begin the activation process. Almost like a lock into a key, the cannabinoids interact with the receptors and begin their work. 

But what about the CBD compound? CBD has a more complex and important relationship with the ECS than other compounds found in cannabis. CBD doesn’t bind directly with the ECS receptors, instead, it helps our bodies to produce more endocannabinoid receptors naturally. This, in turn, leads to the ECS functioning better, creating a stronger state of homeostasis and a much healthier body. 

The intensive research into CBD is showing up the tremendous benefits of this compound, not only on the body in general but also in the maintenance of a healthy ECS.

Maintaining a Healthy ECS Highway – the Benefits

So, there you have it, the ECS is a complex system of receptors that are critical in helping your body to maintain a healthy homeostasis. The CB1 and CB2 receptors, located in the brain, throughout the immune system and in various tissues are capable of interacting with a range of different cannabinoids. 

CBD, in particular, plays a very important role in maintaining a functioning and healthy Endocannabinoid System. Though not interacting directly with the CB1 & CB2 receptors, CBD still fosters the growth of more receptors to be used exactly when we need them.

Keeping your ECS healthy will benefit many components of the body including your heart, brain, liver, muscles, and immune system. These functions are only kept in pristine operating capacity by this unique communications network, telling their cells exactly what they need to do or how to react.

We still have much to learn about the ECS, but the information that we have already tells us that this system is extremely important in maintaining a healthy body and functionality. The advent of CBD research is already showing incredible results across the board. After all, we all need a healthy body to reach our full potential.

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Anthony Wood

Blogger | Adventurer | Surfer

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