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Endocannabinoid system

What is ECS?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a cell signalling mechanism found inside all human beings and most animals. Whilst we are still learning about the complexities of the ECS, what we do know is that it is primarily responsible for balancing our bodily functions. It is involved in regulating everything from modulating pain and pleasure to mood, appetite, memory, fertility, reproduction and sleep.

The endocannabinoid system comprises of three main components: receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes.

ECS receptors - The endocannabinoid receptors are found on the surfaces of cells that are spread across the body and brain. They act as a lock that needs to be opened for the endocannabinoid system to function. The two primary receptors of ECS are CB1 and CB2 receptors.

CB1 receptors are concentrated in the central nervous system (brain and nerves of the spinal cord).

CB2 receptors are mostly found in the peripheral nervous system (nerves in your extremities), digestive system and especially the specialised cells in the immune system including neutrophils and macrophages. 

CB1 receptors regulate pain perception, motor coordination, short term memory and appetite. On the other hand, CB2 receptors are responsible for regulating the function of gut, kidneys, reproductive system and immune system along with many others. 

Endogenous cannabinoids  - Similar to the phytocannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant (CBD, THC, etc.), our bodies naturally produce cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids, that act as keys and fit into the locks (receptors). The two main endocannabinoids of our body are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglyerol. These bind to CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors in our body.

Anandamide is known as the ‘bliss molecule’ for its role in producing a feel of ‘joy’. It is also described as a 'runner's high'. Anandamide interacts with the endocannabinoid system to produce the feeling of euphoria that comes after running or exercise.

Degrading Enzymes - Our body also produces enzymes that break down the endocannabinoid after they have interacted with the receptors. The ECS enzymes also play a key role in regulating the level of endocannabinoids in the body. The main degrading enzymes are fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and Monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL). FAAH degrades anandamide and MAGL breaks down 2-arachidonoylglyerol. 

How does CBD work?

When an imbalance is detected, our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids that interact with the cannabinoid receptors to balance to our body. The degrading enzymes work to quickly breakdown endocannabinoids produced by the body. We can help to supplement it with plant-based cannabinoids (CBD, THC, etc.) to optimise the ECS. The enzymes are unable to breakdown CBD and THC as quickly, and therefore work to enhance our ECS.

CBD does not bind to the receptors but helps the body bring together the lock and key (receptors and endocannabinoids) to make sure the endocannabinoid system carries out all physiological functions in timely manner. CBD is said to stop the enzymes from breaking down endocannabinoids so that the body can use the endocannabinoid again and again. Moreover, CBD is also known to impact the serotonin receptors on the happy hormone of our body. It regulates the serotonin level in the body, which helps in relieving the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

THC is known to have a strong affinity towards both CB1 and CB2 receptors, and it can bind directly to them, which is why it is more psychoactive and also has a greater impact in the appetite and pain perception. However, CBD lacks a particular binding affinity and produces much of its effect through indirect actions.

Endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome

Deficiency of endocannabinoids in our body can lead to imbalance in the ECS and impact our wellbeing. There is no explanation as to why this occurs, but theories include; our body not creating enough endocannabinoids or an abundance of enzymes that break down cannabinoids. It is suggested that taking CBD may help overcome the deficiency and allow the endocannabinoid system to perform optimally. It is a very similar concept to say protein. Our bodies naturally produce protein, but when working out regularly, we tend to increase our protein intake to support our body to recover faster.

A perfectly working endocannabinoid system brings stability and balance to the body.