The Endocannabinoid System Explained
You may be familiar with Cannibidiol (CBD), or at the very least, run across the name on the internet or even in conversation. You may even be familiar with its benefits. Whenever someone brings up CBD, it’s usually to tout its benefits by highlighting those properties. What hardly anyone seems to discuss is: how does it work?
Believe it or not, our bodies have a system for processing CBD: the Endocannabinoid System Explained. Let’s discuss what it is and it utilizes CBD to your advantage.
A Fitting Name
Believe it or not, Endocannabinoid is a compound word. “Endo” is the abbreviated form of the word “endogenous” which means originating or developing within an organism. Cannibinoid is a bit easier to guess, as it refers to cannabis, the herb CBD (and its psychotropic sibling, THC) originate from.
The Endocannabinoid System in a Nutshell
Researchers while investigating about the psychoactive effects of THC stumbled upon the endocannabinoid system in the human brain in the 1990s. The ECS can be defined as a complex cellular signaling system made up of endogenous retrograde neurotransmitters bound to cannabinoid receptor proteins and cannabinoid receptors. Two main cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, identified in 1990 and 1993 respectively, exist in the central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, and the brain (2).
Researchers and scientists still have a lot to unravel and understand the ECS and its working mechanism. But what we do know is that the ECS plays a key role in controlling and facilitating a range of cognitive and physiological procedures. Some of these processes include mood, memory, appetite, pain-sensation, prenatal and postnatal development.
So, regardless of whether you use cannabis or not, you can still experience the effects of cannabinoids, thanks to your body’s ECS system.
The ECS is composed of three basic components: endocannabinoids, enzymes, and receptors.
Endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids, in short, are cannabinoid molecules, like the cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant. Till date, researchers have identified and classified two significant endocannabinoids- AEA (anandamide) and 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol). These endocannabinoids facilitate in promoting the physiological and cognitive functions in a smooth manner.
Enzymes help break down the endocannabinoids after they have effectively performed their respective responsibilities or functions. The two primary enzymes responsible for chemically decomposing the endocannabinoids are fatty acid amide hydrolase (breaking down AEA) and monoacylglycerol acid lipase (which breaks down 2-AG).
Endocannabinoid receptors can be found in almost every part of the human body. The endocannabinoids attach themselves to the receptors for indicating that ECS has to get ready for action (1). As mentioned above, CB1 exist in the central nervous system and the brain and CB2 receptors thrive in the peripheral nervous system, particularly the immune system.
Endocannabinoids can attach to either of the receptors. The location of the receptor and the specific endocannabinoid it fastens to determine the effects.
Now That We Know What it is…What Does it Do?
Scientists are yet to completely understand the exact working mechanism of the ECS or identify all the functions it performs. However, the experts have alleged that the ECS has a role to play in appetite, metabolism, inflammation, skin and nerve function, stress, liver function, muscle development, motor control, and sleep. Research carried out on ECS has established that the system might also be involved with chronic pain, cardiovascular function, temperature regulation, and bone development and remodeling.
The above functions have a bearing on homeostasis-the physiological process responsible for maintaining a stable temperature inside the human body. So, when an external force or agents like a disease or injury interferes with the human body’s homeostasis, the ECS kicks in to restore its normal functioning. Nowadays, researchers are strong of the opinion that the ECS’s fundamental responsibility is the maintenance of homeostasis.
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Lu, Hui-Chen and Mackenzie, Ken. An introduction to the endogenous cannabinoid system. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4789136/