The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a crucial role in regulating important bodily functions, such as mood, sleep, memory, and appetite. When the ECS is out of balance or not performing optimally, our health and wellness take a knock.
The discovery of the ECS is still relatively new. Scientists first identified the system in the early 1990s while investigating how cannabinoids present in the cannabis sativa (C. sativa) plant interact with the human body.
There is still much to learn about the ECS. But it’s believed that cannabinoids, like CBD, interact with cannabinoid receptors in the system to exert positive effects.
We delve deeper into the endocannabinoid system and how it works below.
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell signaling network located throughout the body. All mammals have an ECS, with experts describing it as a “central component of the health and healing of every human, and almost every animal.”
The ECS is composed of endocannabinoids, enzymes, and cannabinoid receptors that help regulate a range of processes and functions in the body.
Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids – “endo” means “within,” as in within the body. They are present in various organs and tissues throughout the body and become active when they bind to a cannabinoid receptor.
While scientists don’t yet fully understand what triggers the endocannabinoids to take action, it’s believed to be linked to imbalances in the system. When a system in the body is out of balance, endocannabinoids interact with receptors to help correct the problem.
Cannabinoids are similar in structure to endocannabinoids and can, therefore, also bind to cannabinoid receptors and produce similar effects.
What Is the Endocannabinoid System Responsible For?
Our endocannabinoid system is responsible for maintaining physiological and biochemical balance. Its primary goal is to maintain homeostasis, or balance, in our body and mind.
Homeostasis refers to your body’s efforts to keep everything in the right zone. It strives to keep your internal bodily systems stable and optimal despite what’s happening in the environment around you.
For instance, if your body temperature is too high or you’re feeling fatigued, the ECS’s job is to restore balance. When your stomach growls, that’s your ECS reminding you to eat because you need fuel.
Here are some of the most important processes the ECS has been linked to:
- Mood and stress
- Appetite and digestion
- Inflammation and pain
- Learning and memory
- Liver function
- Motor control
- Skin health
- Nerve function
All these functions contribute to homeostasis, ensuring that your internal environment is stable and performing optimally.
The Endocannabinoid System: A Bridge Between Body and Mind
The endocannabinoid system, with its complex actions in our nervous system, immune system, digestive system, and all of the body’s organs, is a bridge between the body and mind.
More specifically, the ECS regulates the functions discussed above that our mind makes us feel in the first place.
The ECS exerts its effects by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in select tissues. Currently, two primary cannabinoid receptors have been identified, CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. Each affects different parts of the body.
CB1 receptors regulate processes in the central nervous system and brain, while CB2 receptors appear to control peripheral operations in organ systems and our immune system.
Let’s look at a practical example of how the ECS links our body and mind. If you break your arm, the part of your body that hurts lets your brain know that you’re in pain by communicating via receptors. Because the ECS helps regulate pain, it works to keep the pain within bearable limits.
Naturally, it seems as though there are several bridges between the body and mind. The ECS is the one that maintains homeostasis and makes sure important bodily functions are performing optimally.
How Does CBD Affect the ECS?
Since every person has an ECS and the system’s primary role is to maintain homeostasis, you may be wondering why we even need CBD.
If the ECS is not functioning optimally in the body, it may require a little help restoring balance. ECS dysfunction can cause several things to feel off-kilter, either physically or psychologically.
Since cannabinoids like CBD have a similar structure to endocannabinoids, they can produce similar effects.
While experts aren’t entirely sure how CBD interacts with the ECS, they know it doesn’t bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors as THC does. Instead, they believe that by preventing endocannabinoids from breaking down, CBD helps keep them in optimal working condition, allowing them to have more of an effect on the body. Others believe that CBD may bind to as yet undiscovered receptors.
Regardless of how it works, research suggests that CBD could have a positive influence on the ECS and overall health and wellbeing. It can potentially help calm the mind, improve mood, promote a healthy night’s rest, and more.
What Is Endocannabinoid Deficiency?
Cannabinoids exert their effects by interacting with our ECS. If the body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids, it’s unable to carry out the natural processes of homeostasis. Scientifically, this phenomenon is known as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD).
According to cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo, an endocannabinoid deficiency may be the root cause of various ailments and diseases. Specifically, it could explain why some people develop fibromyalgia, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and similar conditions.
Although endocannabinoid deficiency is still an understudied field, it could explain why targeting endocannabinoid production with CBD products may be effective.
If your endocannabinoid system is under strain, supplementing with cannabinoid selections – like full-spectrum CBD oils – may help boost endocannabinoid levels and restore balance.
Final Thoughts: CBD and the ECS
The endocannabinoid system is an exciting area of research, providing valuable insight into why CBD and other cannabinoids may be an excellent addition to health and wellbeing.
However, we still have much to learn about the ECS. As researchers continue to explore the importance of the endocannabinoid system and how it works, we will better understand the role it plays in relation to various conditions.
For now, although it’s not fully understood how, it seems that CBD might exert a range of therapeutic benefits through its interaction with the ECS.
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