When you read about the benefits of CBD, you’ll often see mention of the body’s ‘endocannabinoid system’. But what exactly is this system, and what does it do?
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a biological system (like the digestive system or the lymphatic system) that has become the subject of increasing research since it was first identified in the 1990s. Researchers have found that it works to regulate both functions and processes in the human body.
The ECS affects many normal functions of the human body, including your mood, sleep, appetite, memory, reproduction and fertility.
Research has also linked the ECS to a wide range of processes within the body including pain and inflammation, stress, skin and nerve function and digestion.
Many of the processes that have been linked to the endocannabinoid system involve maintaining homeostasis within the body - that is, the body’s ability to keep a relatively stable internal state. It is therefore believed that this maintenance of 'biological harmony in response to changes in the environment’ is the main function of this biological system.
Endocannabinoids broadly work as neuromodulators and, as such, they regulate a wide scope of physiological processes – from fertility to pain. Maintaining a healthy endocannabinoid system is important for the following functions:
- Immune health & inflammation
- Stress & mood
- Nervous system
- Bone health
- Skin health
- Arterial and respiratory health
- Sleep and circadian rhythm
How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?
Both endocannabinoids (humans) and phytocannabinoids (plants) are sets of chemicals that are part of a relatively newly discovered network of specialized cellular receptors called the endocannabinoid system, or ECS. Interestingly, some form of an ECS is present in all mammals (including canines, felines, and horses) —and all vertebrates.
The ECS is comprised of cannabinoid receptors, endogenous (that is, made in the body) cannabinoids known as endocannabinoids, and enzymes that are responsible for the synthesis and degradation of the endocannabinoids. The ECS works by binding endocannabinoids to cannabinoid receptors to send a signal to your body to do what it needs to do. We have two main endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 is found in our central nervous system, while CB2 is found in the peripheral nervous system - that is, the organs, limbs and skin.
When our endocannabinoids - Anandamide and 2-AG - bind with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, our brain sends a signal that allows our body to regulate itself naturally. Our enzymes then work to break down these molecules naturally once they are released.
How Does CBD Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?
There have been multiple studies conducted over the course of the past three decades regarding the benefits of cannabinoids - particularly in the primary areas of analgesia (pain relief), reductions in systemic inflammation, decreased anxiety and nausea, and anti-cancer research. What is super exciting is that the major phytocannabinoids have been labeled by researchers “mimetic molecules” because they mirror the behavior of major endocannabinoids.
While the exact mechanism by which CBD interacts with the ECS hasn’t been fully determined, it is generally thought that CBD works by inhibiting the breakdown of endocannabinoids. For example, it can inhibit an enzyme called FAAH, which breaks down the endocannabinoid Anandamide.
Preventing the breaking down of the endocannabinoid can increase its levels and therefore its effects - such as a reduction in stress levels and promoted feelings of relaxation.
https://www.leafly.com/news/science-tech/what-is-the-endocannabinoid-system https://www.healthline.com/health/endocannabinoid-system https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4789136/ https://www.uclahealth.org/cannabis/human-endocannabinoid-system https://www.thorne.com/take-5-daily/article/the-endocannabinoid-system-the-most-important-system-you-ve-never-heard-of
*Please note, the statements herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.