What is the Endocannabinoid System?
Let us examine the word “endocannabinoid.” The term “cannabinoid” is derived from the word “cannabis,” and “endo” is an abbreviation for “endogenous,” which means that it is produced naturally in the body. Therefore, the term “endocannabinoid” simply refers to cannabis-like substances naturally occurring within our bodies.
The ECS is a system in the human body named after the plant responsible for its discovery – cannabis. To comprehend the ECS, it is essential to know what homeostasis means.
Homeostasis refers to your body’s attempts to make sure everything is in the proper zone. It strives to keep your body’s internal environment stable and at its best, no matter what is going on externally.
Think about the gauges located on the dashboard of a car or airplane. These tell the operator what is happening in the right zone. Just like the electronic systems in automobiles and airplanes, your body is also working to keep track of essential processes and levels in your body.
Is your temperature unusually high or low, or is it just right? Are your hormone levels in line with what they should be? Is your heart beating too quickly? Do you need fuel or rest? Is there too much of something stockpiling in your bloodstream or within your cells?
If something happens outside of normal limits, your body will activate the ECS to fix the problem. For example, when you’re feeling extremely hot and sweating, you should thank your ECS for helping you cool down. Stomach growling? It’s your ECS reminding you to eat because you need energy.
What is the purpose of the ECS in the body?
The endocannabinoid system is a complex cell-signaling system, and experts are still trying to comprehend ECS in its entirety. However, researchers have found that the ECS permeates all the main physiological systems in the body, working to handle the many functions needed for survival, and these include:
Memory and learning
Sleep and circadian rhythm
Cardiovascular system function
Bone remodeling and growth
Reproductive system functions
Skin and nerve function
All of these functions contribute to the stability of your internal environment, known as homeostasis. So, for example, if your body’s homeostasis is disrupted by something outside of it, such as pain from an injury or a fever, your ECS kicks in to help your body get back to how it should be working.
Experts now believe that the ECS’s importance is maintaining homeostasis throughout all major body systems, securing they are all in harmony with one another.
The ECS exists and is active in your body regardless of whether or not you use cannabis. In fact, our brains are full of tiny cannabis-like molecules. The cannabis plant, which people have been using for almost 5000 years, works its effects by taking over or hijacking these cells.
How does the Endocannabinoid System work?
The ECS is made up of a vast network of chemical signals and cell receptors spread out all over our brains and bodies. ECS’s function is well-organized. It is carried by three key components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Our bodies make molecules called endocannabinoids, which have the same shape as molecules in the cannabis plant and work to stimulate these receptors.
So far, experts have found two key endocannabinoids:
2-AG, or 2-arachidonoylglycerol, is the most common cannabinoid. It controls appetite, pain response, and how the immune system works.
Anandamide (AEA), which is often called the “the bliss molecule,” is responsible for the runner’s high and the feelings of euphoria that come from play, yoga, and meditation.
These keep internal processes running smoothly. Your body produces them when needed, so it’s hard to say what normal levels are for each.
The receptors are present throughout the body. Endocannabinoids attach to them to communicate that it needs to act to your ECS.
There are two main types of receptors for endocannabinoids:
CB1 receptors – the “cannabinoid” receptors- are neurotransmitters more common in the brain than many other types of receptors. Most other neurotransmitters are controlled by how many are in the brain and how they act. They control things like hunger, body temperature, and alertness by getting immediate feedback and turning up or down the activity of whatever system needs to be changed.
CB2 receptors – the second type of cannabinoid receptor. It is primarily found in our immune tissues and is important for controlling how our immune system works. It also helps prevent intestinal inflammation, contraction, and pain in conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. CB2 receptors are very interesting as drug targets because they don’t give you the high that you get from cannabis when you stimulate CB1 receptors (which is often an unwanted side effect).
Endocannabinoids can attach to either receptor. The effects depend on where in the body the receptor is and which endocannabinoid it binds to.
For example, endocannabinoids could target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve. Others could bind to a CB2 receptor on your immune cells and send a message that your body is inflamed, a common sign of autoimmune diseases.
Enzymes break down endocannabinoids after they have done their work. Two enzymes are involved in this process:
AEA monoacylglycerol acid lipase usually breaks down 2-AG, and
fatty acid amide hydrolase, breaks down AEA monoacylglycerol acid.
Thoughts on Endocannabinoid System
Many of us are familiar with our bodies’ transmitter systems, such as the sympathetic nervous system, which controls our fight-or-flight response. Fewer people have heard of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which was only recently discovered. This is surprising when you consider how critical the ECS is to almost every part of our day-to-day functioning.
There are many claims about how THC and CBD, two cannabinoids found in cannabis, can help people feel better. With so many seemingly unrelated benefits, you may wonder if it’s simply an exaggeration from those who want to see the legalization of marijuana. Most of these claims, however, are backed up by medical research, and the different effects must be caused by the size and scope of the endocannabinoid process.
Again, the endocannabinoid system may be one of the star players in why your body’s internal processes stay stable. But we still don’t know much about it, though. As scientists learn more about the ECS, it might become the key to treating a number of health problems.
At the moment, the ECS is the focus of a lot of new research and drug development on a global scale.