During the 1990s, medical cannabis research witnessed one of its biggest breakthroughs with the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). But what does the ECS do and why was its discovery so significant? In this article, I will break down the science and explain things in layman’s terms.

What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

If you are not familiar with cannabinoids, then take a look here. Within the word endocannabinoid, the preceding “endo” is short for “endegenous” – meaning something that the body naturally produces. Regarding cannabinoids such as CBD (cannabidiol), the full terminology is “phytocannabinoid” – “phyto” meaning “of a plant”.

To summarise, cannabinoids are produced by both the cannabis plant, and the human body.

Researchers have identified two pivotal endocannabinoids so far: Anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG).

In addition to endocannabinoids, the ECS consist of two further components: Receptors and enzymes.

What Are Cannabinoid Receptors?

There are three cannabinoid receptors: CB1, CB2, and CB3 – the latter is a new revelation that is still being explored, whereas both the CB1 and CB2 receptors were identified upon the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.

The CB1 Receptor

Primarily located in the brain and nervous system, the CB1 receptor has an impact on the following functions:

  • Motor functions
  • Thinking
  • Appetite
  • Short term memory
  • Pain perception
  • Immune cells

The CB2 Receptor

Predominantly located in the peripheral nervous system, and white blood cells, the CB2 receptor has an affinity with the following:

  • Adipose tissue
  • Bone
  • Central nervous system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Eyes
  • Gut
  • Immune system
  • Kidneys
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Skin
  • Tumours
  • Reproductive system
  • Skeletal muscle
  • Respiratory tract

The endocannabinoid system regulates the bodily functions that are listed above. For this reason, consuming phytocannabinoids has a positive impact on our health.

Cannabinoid receptors work by binding with cannabinoids – both “Phyto” and “Endo”. When you break down the science, the importance of cannabinoid consumption is evident.

What Role Do Enzymes Play?

The main responsibility of enzymes is to break down the endocannabinoids after they have carried out their duty.

There are two preeminent enzymes that are responsible for this: fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA (Anandamide), and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG (2-Arachidonoylglycerol).

How Does CBD Interact With the Endocannabinoid System?

Most cannabinoids have a strong affinity with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. This is not exclusive to phytocannabinoids, but also the endocannabinoids – anandamide & 2-AG. However, CBD actually has a low binding relationship with both receptors.

So why is CBD so important to the endocannabinoid system? Firstly, CBD modifies the receptor’s ability to bind with other cannabinoids. Additionally, CBD plays a larger role in the endocannabinoid system: influencing other types of receptors, while also enhancing your natural levels of endocannabinoids by occupying certain enzymes.

The Endocannabinoid System: Crucial for Homeostasis

As previously mentioned, the endocannabinoid system plays a vital roll in regulating a range of critical bodily functions, such as the immune system and short term memory.

Homeostasis is a state of stability and balance – meaning that a state of homeostasis suggests that all functions are healthy.

If your body is not producing enough anandamide or 2-AG, it is no longer in a state of homeostasis. With that, the consumption of cannabinoids effectively restores balance. Just like a vitamin deficiency, there’s also such a thing as an endocannabinoid deficiency.

What is Endocannabinoid deficiency?

The reason that cannabinoids such as CBD is well received as a wellness-supplement is because of CEDS (Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome).

Many cannabis enthusiasts blame many modern conditions on an endocannabinoid deficiency. Before cannabis prohibition years, hemp was a common food – whether directly or via mammals which grazed on the crop. Either way, cannabinoid consumption became an illegal activity for over half a century, thus denying the majority of us the ability to maintain homeostasis.

Admittedly, cannabinoids are in no way a panacea. However, scientific research to their medicinal efficacies is promising, just not yet conclusive. Although, it is fair to suggest that consuming cannabinoids does improve your personal well-being.

Conclusion

As cannabis-based research is in its infancy, it is not unreasonable to think that the praise of cannabinoids could be over-hyped. However, conducted-studies to date show promising results.

The discovery of the endocannabinoid system is one of the biggest breakthrough discoveries in modern medicine. Although medical studies on cannabinoids for certain medical conditions are yet to be signed-off, the ECS may bring us closer to that possibility.

By all means, keep an eye open on cannabis medical research and maintain homeostasis with CBD products; but in the meantime, it is best to appreciate that modern medicine has come along way and to always consult with your doctor if you are afflicted with a medical condition.