What is the Endocannabinoid System?

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

In This Article

The endocannabinoid system, or the ECS for short, is a biological matrix within the human body that’s responsible for interacting with the many varieties of cannabinoids found within the hemp plant.

So, let’s take the opportunity to break things down and get a real feel for the role of the endocannabinoid system via this endocannabinoid system 101.

human body and the ECS

Is the Endocannabinoid System Real?

First up, let’s just make it clear that, while we still don’t know all there is to know about the endocannabinoid system, it is most definitely real.

When researchers first began to explore the composition of THC in more detail – one of the most well-known cannabinoids found in the hemp plant – they stumbled across the endocannabinoid system at the same time.

So far, we know that, above and beyond its innate desire to want to interact with cannabinoids, it also plays a key role in the regulation of a number of bodily functions, including sleep, mood, appetite, memory, reproduction, and fertility.

But our understanding doesn’t go much farther than that at present.

No doubt, we haven’t come anywhere close to the full extent of endocannabinoid system discovery and to finding out what this biological system is truly capable of.

How does the Endocannabinoid System Work?

The three essential components of the endocannabinoid system are as follows:

  • Endocannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoid and cannabinoid receptors
  • Enzymes

When we consume a CBD product or a hemp plant extract, the endocannabinoid system receptors immediately bind with the cannabinoids found in the product.

They also bind with the endocannabinoids that your body naturally produces, but more on those later.

The body then uses the system’s enzymes to break down all cannabinoids and endocannabinoids into a form that the human body can absorb.

The content is then projected throughout the central nervous system, including the brain, and the peripheral nervous system, and we begin to feel the results.

Endocannabinoids and the human body

Endocannabinoids and Cannabinoids: What’s the difference?

Cannabinoids are made by and found in the hemp plant. They are used in the formulation of a wide array of products, including topicals, tinctures, edibles, pre-rolls, bath bombs, softgels, and concentrates.

But the fascinating thing is that the human body has the ability to create its own set of cannabinoids. These human-created cannabinoids are what we call endocannabinoids.

The full, scientific term for endocannabinoids is endogenous cannabinoids. They are, quite simply, molecules similar in form and function to cannabinoids, but cleverly made by you and your body. Anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG) are the two specific endocannabinoids that have been discovered and named to date.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The Endocannabinoid System and the Brain

While it was initially believed to only connect to the body’s nervous system, scientists now reveal that components of the endocannabinoid system are abundantly and widely distributed throughout the human brain (in fact, those of all mammals) and help to monitor and adjust the functions of a range of important neurotransmitters.

These brain-located components have been found in areas related to memory, motor, and mood.

As such, it seems fairly logical that a dysfunction of the endocannabinoid system could then be linked to a range of diseases that display worrying symptoms related to memory, motor, and mood.

human brain and endocannabinoid system

The Endocannabinoid System and CBD

One of the most well-known cannabinoids found in the hemp plant is cannabidiol, usually referred to as CBD.

It has become increasingly more popular over the last decade, earning a reputation for itself as the cannabinoid that offers all the benefits of the hemp plant without getting you high.

In general, it can be relied upon for inducing few negative effects on the human body and it’s fast becoming a go-to ingredient for wellness products and for those who enjoy an active lifestyle.

However, scientists aren’t really that sure about the specifics of CBD and how it interacts with the endocannabinoid system. The only real thing that experts seem to be able to confirm is that CBD doesn’t bind to endocannabinoid receptors in the same way that THC does.

One possible conclusion is that CBD in fact prevents endocannabinoids from being broken down by the system’s enzymes, which in some way manages to intensify the effects of other cannabinoids on the human body.

This is one of the main reasons why so many of the industry’s brands now choose to stipulate the CBD to THC ratio of their products, hailing each ratio for a different use.

Another train of studies leads experts to believe that CBD binds to a receptor that we simply haven’t discovered yet and that, when we do, will open the portal to a much greater understanding of this incredibly versatile and beneficial cannabinoid.

Central nervous system

What about Endocannabinoid System Deficiency?

So, what happens when the endocannabinoid system isn’t working properly?

Well, nothing has been proven to date, but studies are exploring the notion that endocannabinoid system deficiency results in sick, depressed, and generally not very happy human beings.

In particular, Ethan Russo M.D., Director of Research and Development of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, claims that clinical endocannabinoid deficiency might shed some light on irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraine, and other treatment-resistant syndromes.

So, What’s Next for the ECS?

We know that the endocannabinoid system is present in every major area of the human body, and so logic dictates that, when it malfunctions, it could be the cause of a variety of conditions. Interesting, right?

Only time, and dedicated scientific analysis, will help shed some light. We’ll keep you informed.