What is the endocannabinoid system?
Want to understand more about how and why CBD and other cannabinoids affect our bodies? Our endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role. How exactly does it work and what is it responsible for in our body? Our brief guide to this fascinating system will answer that question.
The endocannabinoid system (abbreviated as ECS) is a large and complex biological system that influences many essential processes in our body. Doctors discovered it in the late 1980s while researching THC. But even after more than 30 years of research, we still don't know much about its workings and interrelationships. What is certain, however, is that the ECS exists and works in your body whether you use cannabis (or the substances in it) or not.
Among the most important processes affected by the ECS are the proper functioning of the metabolic and immune systems. It plays a vital role in maintaining homeostasis - internal balance. It regulates hormone levels and body temperature. It also affects, among other things, reproduction and fertility, sleep, memory, appetite and the processing of emotions, and therefore our mood.
The endocannabinoid system consists of 3 components:
Endocannabinoids, or endogenous cannabinoids, are similar to the cannabinoids present in cannabis, but are produced by our body itself. Scientists have so far identified 2 key endocannabinoids: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). Their amount in the body fluctuates - the body produces them depending on how much they are needed. It is thus difficult to determine the typical level of both substances in the body. Both endogenous cannabinoids help keep internal functions running smoothly.
2) Endocannabinoid receptors
Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout our body. As their name implies, endocannabinoids bind to them. They signal the endocannabinoid system to intervene.
There are two main endocannabinoid receptors: the CB1 receptors are found mainly in the central nervous system, while the CB2 receptors are mostly in the peripheral nervous system, especially in immune cells. Endocannabinoids can bind to both receptors. The resulting effects depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.
As mentioned above, endocannabinoidskeep internal functions running smoothly and can, for example, target CB1 receptors in the spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others may bind to the CB2 receptor on immune cells and signal that there is inflammation in the body, a common symptom of autoimmune disorders.
All of these processes are intended to contribute to the maintenance of homeostasis and thus the stability of the internal environment. For example, if an external force such as pain from an injury or a fever disrupts your body's homeostasis, it is the endocannabinoid system that comes into play and helps your body return to its ideal functioning.
Enzymes come in many forms in our bodies. Only two of them are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids after they have fulfilled their function. The first is fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). The second is monoacylglycerol hydrolase (MAGL).
How does CBD affect the endocannabinoid system?
Next to THC, cannabidiol (CBD) is the second main cannabinoid in cannabis. Unlike THC, it does not cause states of intoxication or euphoria, as it does not have intoxicating effects. It does not give you a high when you use it. However, both substances interact with each other and can both enhance and diminish their effects. This will be discussed in a later article.
To understand the effects of CBD, it is very useful to investigate the relationship between receptors and endocannabinoids. There is no clear consensus among experts on how CBD interacts with the ECS. It is believed that, unlike THC, CBD does not directly bind to endocannabinoid receptors but influences them in some way. It is the activation of these receptors that allows CBD to have the range of health benefits that people associate with the compound.
Many experts are inclined to believe that CBD works by preventing the breakdown of endocannabinoids produced by our bodies. This de facto allows them to have a stronger effect on the body. Other voices, on the other hand, believe that CBD binds to a receptor unknown to us yet undiscovered by scientists.
While the details of how CBD and ECS interact are still debated, research suggests that CBD can help with pain, nausea, anxiety, and a variety of other symptoms associated with a wide range of health conditions.
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