Ancient humans relied more heavily on the resources they could find in their natural environment than we do today. We became so closely intertwined with some compounds that we evolved right alongside them. Such is the case with cannabis and our endocannabinoid system.
It’s easy to visualize your skeletal or muscular system with bones and muscles respectively. The endocannabinoid system is different because you can’t see it with the naked eye, even though you can clearly feel its effects. The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, consists of three major parts: the cannabinoid molecules themselves, which are most often consumed from the cannabis plant but can, surprisingly, sometimes be produced by your own body, receptors for these cannabinoids, and the enzymes that are involved in breaking down cannabinoid molecules.
Let’s take a deeper look at each of these. There won’t be a test at the end, but you might be interested to know what’s happening in your body when you enjoy our CBD products.
Cannabis (and many other plants) contain compounds known as cannabinoids, which have an effect on the ECS. Cannabis compounds like THC and CBD are well-known for their intoxicating and calming properties, respectively, but other cannabinoids are less well-known. Even so, the cannabis plant includes more than 150 distinct chemical compounds.
Endocannabinoids are a class of cannabinoids synthesized by the human body and which interact with other components of the ECS. All cells in the nervous system, up and down the spine, in every brain cell, and even in our skin have receptors for endocannabinoids.
THC's endogenous counterpart, anandamide, is found in the human body as well. While THC creates a sense of euphoria in many, anandamide has a comparable effect on the body and has been called after the Sanskrit term for eternal bliss — "ananda."
Another important cannabinoid is 2-AG, which has both anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties. The central nervous system contains significant quantities of 2-AG.
There are cannabinoid receptors throughout the human body, which makes the ECS like a central nervous system computer. This means that cannabinoids and endocannabinoids interact with a wide variety of receptors, including CB1 and CB2 receptors, as well as GPR55 and opioid receptors as well as dopamine and serotonin receptors.
CB1 and CB2 receptors are at the root of understanding how cannabis affects the human body.
CB1 receptors are concentrated in the central nervous system and play a major role in how cannabinoids affect the brain. A "high" is caused by molecules like THC binding to CB1 receptors.
What is the mechanism by which cannabis affect brain cells? There are two proteins called glutamate and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) that are released when CB1 receptors are activated by cannabis. GABA soothes the neurological system where glutamate stimulates it. GABA levels tend to be lower when glutamate levels are higher, and vice versa.
Think of it this way:
Glutamate generates a Go signal, while GABA signals for Stop.
GABA production is inhibited by THC. An accumulation of glutamate, a "go" signal, can lead to an increase in the overall quantity of dopamine circulating in the body, which can lead to a psychoactive "high" as a result of this.
The activation of CB1 receptors in the body also has the following effects:
- An altered perception of the passage of time
- Drives increased hunger and food seeking behavior
- Can reduce sensation or perception of pain
- Can reduce nausea and anxiety
There are a lot of CB2 receptors in the immune system, as well as some neurons in the brain, intestines, and peripheral nervous system (PNS).
Several studies have linked CB2 receptors to immunological suppression, cell death through apoptosis, and the activation of cell migration and development. This may have a beneficial effect against cancerous tumors and precancerous cells.
Additionally, it is possible that CB2 receptor agonists (compounds that activate CB2 receptors) have anti-inflammatory characteristics that can aid in the treatment of pain and inflammation. CB2 receptors have been proven to be useful in the treatment of autoimmune illnesses and arthritis, according to recent studies.
Enzymes that break down and metabolize cannabinoids and endocannabinoids are the third component of the endocannabinoid system. FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) and MAGL (monoacylglycerol lipase) are two of the most important enzymes in the breakdown of anandamide and THC.
These inhibit the body's production of potentially harmful endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids. These cannabis concentrations can be dangerous because the ECS requires a strict equilibrium.
The ECS's Functions
What the endocannabinoid system doesn't do is a better question. A number of life's most fundamental processes are controlled by the ECS, including:
- Perception of reward after effort.
- Seeking intimacy.
- Immune system response.
- Balancing inflammation.
- Perception of pain.
- Cognitive ability.
- Emotional control.
How to support your ECS
Your ECS likes balance and equilibrium, which is something that’s often lacking in a loud and busy modern life. The ECS plays a critical role in homeostasis, which is the ability to maintain the body's physiological functions in a stable state. In order to strengthen and heal your own ECS, you already have the resources you need within yourself.
To keep your ECS in peak condition, here are a few simple tips:
- Get 7-9 hours of restorative sleep each night
- Eat a diet rich in phytocannabinoids, such as those found in dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, and vegetables
- Maintain a healthy weight and spend time outside in the fresh air, ideally exercising and eating a balanced diet.
- Choose a high quality CBD supplement to support ECS activation for improved health and well-being