When you Google “What is the endocannabinoid system?” a few things will happen: 1) you’re going to find a ton of scientific research, and 2) you’re going to be confused by all the medical jargon. Well, at least that’s what happened to us at first. However, your endocannabinoid system is super important—even if you don’t use CBD or THC—and it deserves to have its day in the sun. This is where we come in. No—we don’t have a Ph.D., but we have done our homework. So, today we’re diving into this complex system so that you can understand what the endocannabinoid system is, why it matters, and what you can do to help support it.
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What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS for short) is an intricate network of communication in your body. According to this article, the ECS regulates cardiovascular, nervous, and immune system functions at a cellular level. It acts as the head maestro for things like fertility + conception, pain moderation, mood, mental health, sleep, appetite, arousal and so much more.
This system is made up of three parts: the endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Here’s a brief breakdown:
Endocannabinoids are molecules that are naturally produced by your body. There are two types: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These endocannabinoids act as chemical messengers, sending signals between nerve cells. They help keep the functions mentioned above running smoothly, and are produced by your body on demand.
Endocannabinoids attach or bind to the receptors, sending messages to your ECS to trigger a reaction.
There are two main types of endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 receptors, (located in your central nervous system) and CB2 receptors (located in your peripheral nervous system, digestive system, and immune system). Endocannabinoids can bind to either of these receptors, and the end result will change depending where the receptor is located and what endocannabinoid binds to it.
Enzymes are responsible for breaking down the endocannabinoids once they’ve done their job.
There are two types of enzymes in the endocannabinoid system: fatty acid amide hydrolase (which breaks down anandamide) and monoacylglycerol acid lipase (which breaks down 2-arachidonoylglycerol).
What does the ECS Do?
As you can tell, the ECS is wildly complicated, and experts haven’t yet determined how it works or completely explored all of its functions. However, we do know that research links the ECS to the following:
- Immune function
- Stress response
Achieving Sweet, Sweet Homeostasis
To better understand the ECS, it helps to understand homeostasis.
Homeostasis is basically your body’s attempt at making sure everything is operating like it should internally, no matter what's going on in the environment around you. For example, if an outside force—such as pain or stress—throws off your homeostasis, your ECS kicks in to help everything return to its ideal state.
Once the endocannabinoids have done their job, and everything has been brought back into a state of balance, the enzymes come along to break them down and keep them from going too far—upsetting the balance in the opposite direction. It's a very delicate and precise system!
Homeostasis is essential to your health and survival, so when the ECS isn't working properly, it can cause a whole host of internal problems. This is why it’s important to provide your ECS with as much support and care as possible. Speaking of which…
Your Endocannabinoid System and CBD
As we mentioned before, endocannabinoids are produced naturally in your body. But sometimes, as is the case with any nutrient or chemical, there is an imbalance or a shortage.
One major takeaway from recent studies is this: it’s super easy to throw off the ECS. Stress levels, genetics, diet, exercise—all of these factors affect the endocannabinoid system, and our modern lifestyles are really taking a toll on this delicate network of cells.
So, here’s where CBD comes in. Hemp and cannabis plants produce phytocannabinoids (“phyto” means “plant”) and these are also known to interact with your ECS. How? Well, CBD can help keep you in a natural state of homeostasis.
Many experts believe that CBD interacts with the ECS by preventing naturally-produced endocannabinoids from being broken down too quickly. This allows the endocannabinoids to have a greater effect on your body. Talk about a solid support system.
Some scientists even believe that CBD binds to an endocannabinoid receptor that hasn’t been discovered yet. Pretty wild, yet totally possible.
The one thing that we know for sure is that we need more research done on the ECS and the ways that CBD can help support it. With the recent (federal) legalization of industrial hemp, we’re well on our way to getting better answers.
Our Final Thoughts
These days, most of us are frantically searching for balance; a work+life balance, a mind+body balance, a balanced diet, a balanced budget, a balanced relationship… the list goes on and on.
If you’re also searching for balance in your life, you may have already heard that CBD can help achieve this. Many recent studies, like this one, are even backing up these claims. The future is looking promising for CBD and your endocannabinoid system.
However, it’s still important to talk to your doctor before adding anything new to your daily routine, especially if there is an imbalance of any kind. They’ll be able to help you determine if CBD is right for you, and will help you find the best CBD dosage.