What is the Endocannabinoid System?

In order to understand how Cannabidiol (CBD) effects your body, you must first understand the Endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is present in all humans, vertebrate animals and even some invertebrate animals. The word ‘Endo’ or endogenous means inside the body and cannabinoids are the group of chemicals that affect this system. In other words, endocannabinoids are cannabinoids similar to CBD which occur endogenously, or naturally within the body.

The endocannabinoid system is the largest neurotransmitter network in the human body. It consists of numerous microscopic signalling receptors all across the body and brain. Moreover these receptors are being activated by naturally occurring cannabinoid molecules whether you are using cannabis products or not. The use of CBD oil and other cannabis derived products stimulate and activate the endocannabinoid system. We will look at this in more detail later.

History of the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system was discovered during a government-funded study at St Louis University School in 1988. Here they found that the mammalian brain has receptor sites that respond to compounds found in cannabis. These receptor sites turned out to be make up the most prominent neurotransmitter network in the human body.

Despite the legal status of cannabis making further research difficult it did not halt it. Soon after, in 1990 The National Institute of Mental Health discovered a second cannabinoid receptor. This receptor was prominent throughout the immune system and peripheral nervous system.

After that, in 1992 at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Scientists discovered the endocannabinoid anandamide and later, 2-AG. These ground-breaking studies paved the way for the mapping of the endocannabinoid system.

Close up of a cannabinoid receptor and endocannabinoid system molecules firing

What is the role of the endocannabinoid system?

Simply put the role of the ECS is to maintain a state of homeostasis throughout the body. In other words it maintains a stable internal environment despite disruptions in the internal environment. For example a stressful event will elicit a response from our ECS to return all systems to balance. Moreover it works to balance our vital physiological functions affecting everything from sleep, appetite, inflammation, mood and pain.

How does the endocannabinoid system work?

The ECS is composed of three primary parts that allow it to function as it does:

The ECS helps to regulate homeostasis across all physiological systems ensuring they all work in harmony with each other. It works in the key and lock model with endocannabinoids acting as a key and cannabinoid receptors as the lock. As a key fits into the lock the receptors get to work.

  • Cannabinoid receptors
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Metabolic enzymes
Full body diagram showing location of cannabinoid receptors in body

Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabinoid receptors [primarily CB1 and CB2] are located on the surface of cells all around the body. They are in our brain, gut, immune system and are even present in the osteoclasts in our bones. Their purpose is to measures the outside cell conditions and transmit information inside of the cell, implementing the appropriate cellular response.

Endocannabinoids (eCBs)

As discussed earlier eCBs are cannabinoid molecules which occur naturally or endogenously within the body. Our ECS creates these molecules in order to activate our cannabinoid receptors. They are similar to the phyto-cannabinoids (plant based cannabinoids) we all know and love such as CBD. The main two eCBs are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).

Metabolic Enzymes

Because of its vital role in making sure that cells and systems remain in their physiological equilibrium, the ECS is tightly regulated. It gets deployed exactly when and where it’s needed. After the endocannabinoids perform their necessary function the metabolic enzymes such as fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) immediately break them down.

CBD and the Endocannabinoid System

CBD’s action within the ECS is mainly indirect. It does not bind to your cannabinoid receptors however it does interact with them in a number of different ways. It’s main role is enhancing the effects and levels of the eCB anandamide within the body.

To achieve this CBD acts as a FAAH inhibitor which slows the decomposition of AEA. It also acts as an anandamide re-uptake inhibitor keeping it present at high levels within the ECS. In other words CBD blocks the breakdown of AEA. This in turn, keeps it present in the body and increases its therapeutic effects as a result.

CBD is also a strong negative allosteric modulator of the CB1 receptor. This means CBD modifies the way the receptor works without directly stimulating it. This is most apparent when THC is present. CBD has the ability to buffer the psychotropic effects of THC by changing how it interacts with the CB1 receptor.

It is clear that the ECS is a fundamental cog in the miracle that is human anatomy. It is also under attack like never before with the stresses, processed foods and environmental toxins that we encounter daily. Fight back by eating a whole food rich diet and keeping the body active and healthy. Luckily for us when all else fails we can improve endocannabinoid tone by supplementing with high quality CBD products such as CBD Vapes or CBD Capsules.

CBD and the endocannabinoid system cannabis plant cbd molecule

Want to know more about CBD?

If you’ve enjoyed this post you may like to read more about the science of CBD. Here are some of our most popular posts on Learning CBD.

Alternatively check out our other blog categories to learn all about – Using CBD | Buying CBD

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