The Endocannabinoid System: Your Body’s Internal Genius
An increasing number of people are rapidly becoming surprised by the positive effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on our bodies. However, most are not familiar with the body’s own process for creating and dispersing cannabinoids to receptors — the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a relatively new discovery; researchers have been building upon knowledge of cannabinoids and their interactions with the body since the 1940s. The pieces finally started to come together in the early 1990s, when they found a new class of cannabinoids that were binding to receptors in the body and creating responses.
In her 2019 TED Talk, molecular pharmacologist Dr. Ruth Ross explains that at that time, the field of cannabinoid studies was very new and the scientific world did not take the field seriously. But things have massively changed — cannabinoids are one of the hottest topics in science today. Some would argue that it has revolutionized the way we think about wellness.
But for many, the ECS is still shrouded in mystery. In this article, we will explore what happens within this amazing body-balancing system. Learning about the ECS can help you better understand how to use CBD to potentially improve your wellness.
Different Types of Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that work to influence neurotransmitter release and bring about homeostasis within the body.
There are three forms of cannabinoids:
Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that your body naturally produces on its own. They occur as a response to a variety of activities and stimuli. Almost all animals, including humans, are born with an endocannabinoid system and produce cannabinoids.
Phytocannabinoids are a diverse group of substances which are produced by plants. This includes chemicals like CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). It is a common misconception that cannabinoids are only found in cannabis. However, they are actually produced by many other species, including cocoa, black truffle, ginseng, and clove.
Synthetic cannabinoids are laboratory-created cannabinoids. These are commonly found in pharmaceutical grade CBD products. It’s advisable to exercise extra caution when considering synthetic options because there are indications that they possess greater safety concerns, compared to their plant-based counterparts.
Though the ECS is well-designed, there may be times when it is not yielding enough endocannabinoids and the body experiences chemical imbalance. In those cases, the shortage may be best balanced with plant cannabinoids.
What Happens in the ECS?
Once released into the body, these cannabinoids travel throughout the ECS and seek out special endocannabinoid receptors that are a custom fit for them. You can imagine these receptors like a lock waiting for a key or a shell waiting for a hermit crab.
Endocannabinoid receptors act as a liaison between the cannabinoid and the corresponding body parts. The receptors communicate with the cannabinoid and provide “instructions” for how to best interact with the body.
There are two primary types of receptors:
- CB1 receptors are positioned mostly in the brain and nervous system. Some of their areas of influence are coordination, motor learning, metabolism, nutrient transport, and pain control.
- CB2 receptors are positioned fairly evenly throughout the body, but are concentrated in immune cells and help to keep inflammation under control. Researchers believe these receptors’ principal purpose is immune protection, but they also assist with skin healing and rejuvenation.
Once a cannabinoid attaches itself to a receptor, the body produces a response. These responses help the ECS regulate various bodily functions such as digestion, pain modulation, and reproduction.
When Does the Body Create Endocannabinoids?
Remember that the overall purpose of the endocannabinoid system is to help keep the body in balance. The body produces endocannabinoids as a response to a variety of stimuli. Since cannabinoids are always working to balance the body, these chemicals can be released during times of highs and lows, depending on what the body needs at the time.
For example, if you’ve got a spike of hunger, the endocannabinoids work to settle the body. If you’ve got an increase of pain, they may work to help you overcome discomfort. Here are some of the physical states/activities that encourage endocannabinoid production:
One of the more fascinating and well-researched aspects of the ECS relates to stress relief. In the face of a stressful event, the body releases the cortisol hormone. Simultaneously, endocannabinoids are released to help balance the physical and emotional symptoms that can occur from heightened levels of cortisol.
Amazingly, the ECS becomes more “intelligent” over time. If you find yourself in the same stressful situation at a later date, the ECS remembers how much cortisol was released the last time and adjusts the level of endocannabinoids to overcome that of the cortisol. Research suggests that this results in a decrease in stress. The process partially explains why we are often better able to cope with unpleasant events after being exposed to them a number of times.
Endocannabinoids are also integral to the process of motor learning and memory formation, particularly as it relates to the positive or negative perception of life events.
Trying Out Phytocannabinoids
There are still many things that we don’t know about the ECS, but it is showing tremendous potential nonetheless. The ECS is an intricate device and it’s important to recognize that the body may need many different things at one time. If you are trying CBD to help support your wellness, it may be necessary to try different CBD types and doses in order to find the best one for you.
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We encourage you to discuss CBD with your physician or healthcare practitioner if you have any specific health related questions or concerns. There are also many independent research studies about CBD available on the internet.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, mitigate, or prevent any disease.