What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
The Endocannabinoid System is a cell signalling system which has been around for roughly 500 million years and is present in every vertebrate (animals with spines) today. The ECS plays a crucial role in regulating a large number of functions and processes in the body that include:
- Reproduction and fertility
It was named the Endocannabinoid System due to the fact it was discovered while investigating the effects of cannabis.
What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?
The primary role of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis; this simply means to maintain a balanced internal environment of the body. The main functions influenced by the ECS are mood, sleep and pain perception, although it also plays a role in immunity, reproductive health and appetite, amongst other things.
The ECS is also involved in brain development when we are young, playing a key role in synaptogenesis (creation of new synapses) and synaptic pruning (removal of redundant synapses).
The ECS also plays a significant role in memory formation. In the Hippocampus, there is a large volume of Endocannabinoids as well as receptors. The Endocannabinoids can actually also help to prevent the formation of traumatic memories, which may explain why it has shown some positive outcomes in helping to treat PTSD.
What is the Endocannabinoid System Made Off?
The ECS is made up of three parts:
The Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring molecules produced in our bodies, which are similar to cannabinoids (found in the plant). There are two key endocannabinoids;
- 2 arachidonolygerol (2AG)
These help to keep functions running smoothly and your body produces them when needed.
The Receptors are spread throughout the body and there are two kinds;
- CB1 – This receptor is predominantly found in the Central Nervous System
- CB2 – This receptor is predominantly found in the Peripheral Nervous System (especially the immune system)
The location of the receptors in the body will dictate the outcome that occurs when endocannabinoids bind with them. For example, CB1 receptors in your spinal nerve may relieve pain whereas CB2 receptors in the immune system may work to tell the body it is producing inflammation.
There are two main enzymes;
- Fatty acid amide hydrolase (responsible for the breakdown of Anandamide)
- Monoacylglycerol acid lipase (breaks down 2AG)
How does the Endocannabinoid System Work?
We produce endocannabinoids in response to different environmental stimuli. For example if we are hungry our body increases production of endocannabinoids in the hypothalamus.
If we are experiencing pain, the ECS increases endocannabinoid production in the area of the body that pain is coming from.
The ECS is always looking to maintain balance. It is also very smart, meaning it can change the way it works in certain situations.
For example, if we are stressed we produce more endocannabinoids then when we feel better we produce less, however if we are going through continuous periods of stress the amount of endocannabinoid production remains high even during the periods of no stress.
What does THC do to the Endocannabinoid System?
When it comes to THC, the best way to describe it is that THC works as an alternate ‘key’ in the ‘lock and key’ model. i.e. THC can bind to the same receptors as the ones our naturally produced endocannabinoids do.
The THC will then either mimic or disrupt the ECS and activate multiple things at once. It can relieve stress, make you sleepy, affect your motivation and influence your appetite and happiness - aka make you feel ‘high’.
However, the ECS is designed not to be over activated. It will down regulate if it is being used too much which may lead to people taking more and more THC and developing a dependence.
What does CBD do to the Endocannabinoid System?
It is not yet 100% clear how CBD interacts with the Endocannabinoid System, but many scientists believe it either bonds to receptors that have not yet been discovered or it prevents the breakdown of endocannabinoids by inhibiting enzymes involved in the process.
CBD is believed to impact specific serotonin receptors in the brain, as-well as impacting our inflammatory response in the body. More research in this field is required to fully understand how CBD impacts the endocannabinoid system though.
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