What is the Endocannabinoid system? How does this work with CBD?
Many people have heard of the sympathetic nervous system - the thing that gives us our fight-or-flight response. Less people though have heard of the more recently discovered 'endocannabinoid system' (the ECS), which is strange considering the ECS is critical for nearly all aspects of our functioning. It regulates and controls a lot of our critical bodily functions like learning and memory, pain control, appetite, emotional processing, sleep and temperature control. The ECS is currently at the center of renewed international research and drug development.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The ECS is a complex cell-signaling system found in the early 1990s by researchers exploring THC which, like CBD, is a cannabinoid.
The ECS involves 3 main components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Endocannabinoids, otherwise named endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules made by your body. They’re similar to phytocannabinoids, except they’re produced by your body. These keep your internal functions running effectively and smoothly. Your body produces them as and when they are needed, making it hard to know what the typical levels are for each.
These receptors are found throughout your body. The previously mentioned endocannabinoids bind to them in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action.
There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:
- CB1 receptors - mostly found in the central nervous system
- CB2 receptors - mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells
Endocannabinoids can and will bind to either receptor and the effects that come from binding will depend on where the receptor is located and which specific endocannabinoid it binds to.
As an examplee: endocannabinoids will target CB1 receptors in your spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others will bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body’s experiencing some inflammation, which is a common sign of autoimmune disorders.
These are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function in the process.
What is the endocannabinoid system proven to have an effect on?
The study 'Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System' linked the ECS to the following processes:
- appetite and digestion
- chronic pain
- inflammation and other immune system responses
- learning and memory
- motor control
- cardiovascular system function
- muscle formation
- bone remodeling and growth
- liver function
- reproductive system function
- skin and nerve function.
How does CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system?
Researchers believe that CBD doesn't actually directly attach itself to the receptor, and instead influences it in some way. Activating these receptors is essentially what allows for many of the health benefits that people associate with the compound.
CBD also influences non-cannabinoid receptors. According to Teaera Roland of Lotus Health, CBD modulates the 5ht serotonin receptor, which can treat psychotic disorders. It can also affect the TRPV1 receptor, which is responsible for pain and inflammation.
A quote about the importance of the endocannabinoid system from Bradley E. Alger, the author of the study 'Getting High on the Endocannabinoid System':
"The endogenous cannabinoid system—named for the plant that led to its discovery—is one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. With its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and virtually all of the body’s organs, the endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system, we begin to see a mechanism that could connect brain activity and states of physical health and disease."