Our bodies are wired to accept and use cannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system discovered by scientists in the early 1990s that controls various features and processes throughout the body. It is a system that essentially strives for balance or homeostasis in the body and acts as a natural receptor for cannabinoid stimuli.
Remember back in science class when we were told about organisms, a basic form of life? We were told by our teachers that organisms of all types have three basic functions:
Whether it was science or social studies (anthropology), we were repeatedly shown that all organisms are focused on the preservation and extension of self, whether the self meant the individual or the group. Reproduction is the extension of the group, but that cannot happen unless the self is protected and capable.
Human biology is like that, too. Our bodies are filled with organisms making up our different physical systems, and they work individually and together to protect those two main goals, self-preservation, and reproduction. Research is finding that a good portion of that involves the endocannabinoid system. This system is wholly dedicated to maintaining the homeostasis of the body and the individual systems to allow further and ensure those two main goals of the organisms within our bodies.
The Human Endocannabinoid System
A System Designed in Our Own Body to Keep Us Balanced
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system discovered by scientists in the early 1990s for research into the popular cannabinoid THC. Cannabinoids are substances found in marijuana. ECS exists and is active in your body even if you do not use cannabis.
Initially, research focused on how the endocannabinoid receptors were only present in the mind and nerves, but later researchers found that the receptors are present throughout the body, including our skin, immune cells, bones, adipose tissue, liver, pancreas, skeletal muscle, heart, capillary, kidney, and intestinal tract.
Today we know that the endocannabinoid system is associated with a variety of biological processes involving discomfort, memory, mood, hunger, stress, anxiety, sleep, metabolic rate, immune function, and reproductive function. Endocannabinoids are perhaps one of the most widely used and functional signaling molecules understood in humans. Specialists are still trying to understand the ECS fully, but so far, we understand that it plays a role in controlling a variety of features and processes throughout the body.
This research shows that health and functioning are holistic on a biological level. The ECS serves to provide the different systems in our bodies the means, and ability, to function properly and the space to repair or protect what needs to be repaired or protected. Because it touches all body systems, it is able to support and direct inter- and intra-system solutions.
Homeostasis: Stay in the Goldilocks Zone
In order to rbetter understand the human endocannabinoid system, it’s I important to understand one of the most essential elements of biology: homeostasis.
What is homeostasis? Well think of Goldilocks and also the three bears. The classic fairy tale shows the idea that the most effective outcome is usually somewhere between two extremes. We don’t want things to be so hot or so cold and neither do our cells and the systems and biology.
Homeostasis is the concept that the majority of biological systems are actively regulated in order to keep conditions within a narrow framework. Our body does not want the temperature level to be too warm or too cool, blood glucose levels to be too high or low etc, and so on. For our cells to functions with optimum efficiency elegant feedback mechanisms have been developed to get them into the “Goldilocks zone.
The endocannabinoid system ECS is an important molecular system for maintaining homeostasis – it helps cells to stay in their Goldilocks zone. Due to its vital role in homeostasis, ECS is widespread throughout the animal kingdom. Its essential components developed long earlier, and ECS can be found in all vertebrate species.
How Does the ECS Work?
The ECS consists of three core parts: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
- Cannabinoid receptors are located on the surface of cells.
- Endocannabinoids small molecules that trigger cannabinoid receptors.
- Metabolic enzymes break down endocannabinoids after their use.
Endocannabinoids, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules produced by the body itself. They are similar to cannabinoids but are produced by the body itself. Endocannabinoids are molecules that, like the plant cannabinoid THC, bind to and activate cannabinoid receptors. However, unlike THC, endocannabinoids are normally produced by cells in the body, “endo” means “inside,” as in the body.
Specialists have so far identified two key endocannabinoids:
The origin of the Sanskrit word “ananda,” which is equated with “joy,” “bliss,” or “joy,” anandamide is sometimes referred to as “the happiness molecule.” Known as N-arachidonic ethanolamine (AEA), this fat-natural chemical has been the subject of numerous clinical trials in an attempt to prove its effect on humans.
- 2-arachidonyl glyerol 2-AG
Whereas previously it was a known chemical substance, at this time, its affinity to cannabinoid receptors was first realized. 2-arachidonoyl glycerol 2-AG, which is present in high concentrations in the central nervous system, was indeed detected in both breast milk and breast milk.
These tools keep internal functions running efficiently. Your body generates them when needed, and this very specific, unique response is what also makes it difficult to isolate the different interactions and reactions in research.
These receptors are found throughout the body. Endocannabinoids bind to them to signal that the ECS must do something about it. Cannabinoid receptors remain on the surface of cells and also “listen” to problems outside the cell. They transmit information about change problems to the cell within the cell, triggering the ideal mobile response.
There are two primary endocannabinoid receptors:
- CB1 receptors: located mainly in the central nervous system. CB1 receptors are among the most common receptor types in the brain. These are the receptors associated with THC to keep people high.
- CB2 receptors: discovered primarily in your peripheral anxiety system, especially immune cells. CB2 receptors are much more numerous outside the nervous system, in places such as the immune system. Nevertheless, both receptors can be detected throughout the body.
Endocannabinoids can bind to one of the two receptors, and the resulting effects depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to. For example, endocannabinoids may target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to eliminate pain, while others bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to indicate that your body has swelling, a typical sign of autoimmune diseases.
The third point of the endocannabinoid triad consists of the metabolic enzymes that rapidly ruin endocannabinoids within the ECS as soon as they are used. The two major enzymes are FAAH, which damages anandamide, and MAGL, which splits 2-AG. These enzymes ensure that endocannabinoids are used when needed but no longer than necessary. This process distinguishes endocannabinoids from numerous other molecular signals in the body, such as hormones or classic neurotransmitters, which can last for several seconds or minutes or can be packaged and stored for later use. There are two primary enzymes for this:
- Fatty amide hydrolase, which damages the AEA.
- Monoacylglycerol lipase, which usually damages 2-AG.
What Does the ECS Do?
The three vital components of the endocannabinoid system can be detected in almost every major system in the body. Normally, when something brings a cell out of its goldilocks, these three pillars of the ECS are called to bring things back and thus maintain homeostasis.
Due to its function of bringing things back to their physical Goldilocks area, the ECS is often used when and where it is needed. As Dr. Vincenzo Di Marzo, Research Director at the Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry in Italy explained it to us:
“With the ‘homeostatic effect of ECS’ we point out that this system of chemical signals is switched on for a short time if deviations from mobile homeostasis are observed. If such deviations are not physiological, the ECS efforts currently initiated, spatially and temporally selective, become homeostasis to restore the previous physical situation.”
In other words, the endocannabinoid system helps to bring points back into the organic Goldilocks region.
The ECS is complex, and much like the intricate workings of other systems in the body, experts continue to research and study the many different functions and effects of the system. However, scientists have linked the ECS to the following processes:
- Appetite and digestion
- Persistent pain
- Inflammation, the body’s immune system actions
- Assessment, memory
- Motor Control
- Cardiovascular system
- Development of muscle mass
- Improvement and development of bones
- Liver function
- Reproductive system
- Skin and nerves
These functions all contribute to homeostasis, which relates to the safety of your inner atmosphere. If, for example, an external force, such as discomfort from an injury or fever, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS will begin to help your body return to its ideal course of action.
Today, experts believe that maintaining homeostasis is the key role of ECS. We know from science that this is a basic response, the reaction of all organisms to protect homeostasis for survival. The human ECS has simply evolved to extend that to work within the different body functions and systems, individually and together.
ECS and the Brain
Neurons of the brain connect by sending electrochemical signals to each other. Neurons do not get as much input – there is a Goldilocks zone. This is where endocannabinoids come into play. Imagine a simplified scenario in which one nerve cell pays attention to two others. When this happens, the neuron that takes care of it will produce endocannabinoids, especially where it is connected to the overactive nerve cell. These endocannabinoids will certainly make a journey back to the “loud” nerve cell, where they bind to CB1 receptors and send a signal advising them to calm down. (The squeaky wheel gets the oil).
As the above example shows, endocannabinoids go backward, which is why they are known as retrograde signals. In many cases, the information circulation between nerve cells runs strictly in one direction, from sender cells that release neurotransmitter signals to recipient nerve cells that pay attention to these signals. Endocannabinoids enable recipient nerve cells to receive how much input they receive, and they do this by sending retrograde signals back endocannabinoids to overactive transmitter neurons.
The brain is not the only organ in the body that needs homeostasis. Any other system in the body, digestion, the immune system, the ECS system, etc., requires a thorough regulation of the exact functioning of its cells. Proper regulation is important to ensure survival.
Endocannabinoid & Swelling, Inflammation
Swelling is a natural safety reaction of the body’s immune system to infection or physical damage. The purpose of inflammation is to eliminate viral germs or damaged cells. The inflamed area is produced by fluid and also immune cells that move directly into the area to do the dirty work and return things to their goldilocks zone.
It is important that the swelling is confined to the site of the damage and does not last longer than necessary, which can lead to damage. Persistent swelling and autoimmune diseases are examples of the immune system is inappropriately triggered. In this case, the inflammatory activity also lasts long, leading to chronic swelling or healthy cells called autoimmunity.
In general, endocannabinoids seem to suppress or limit the inflammatory signals of the body’s immune system. Professor Prakash Nagarkatti, Vice President of Research at the University of South Carolina, whose laboratory investigates the endocannabinoid policy of immune responses, explained to us exactly how optimizing the endocannabinoid system could be an excellent method to deal with inflammatory diseases.
“Most of our studies show that endocannabinoids arise during the activation of immune cells and support the immune defence by acting as anti-inflammatory agents. Treatments that adapt the metabolism or production of endocannabinoids could therefore function as a unique therapy method compared to a variety of inflammatory diseases.”
Consider a typical immune response that is activated by a microbial infection. First, immune cells recognize the presence of microorganisms and emit inflammatory particles that predict various other immune cells and join the fight. Endocannabinoids are also released, which also act as aids to other immune cells and probably help to limit inflammatory feedback so that it is not excessive. By tightly regulating inflammation, the immune system can damage germs or remove damaged cells and then stop. This stops too much swelling and allows cells, and thus the body, to return to the Goldilocks zone.
ECS and THC
THC mimics endocannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol THC is one of the most important cannabinoids found in marijuana. Once THC is in your body, it communicates with your ECS by binding to receptors, similar to endocannabinoids. It is partially strong as it can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. It essentially serves as an external source, stimulating the naturally occurring endocannabinoids.
There are ongoing studies with THC to determine if this direct stimulation is the cause of increased anxiety and paranoia, which is sometimes associated with the use of marijuana since it is the THC that is associated with the “high.” Experts are currently investigating methods for the production of synthetic THC cannabinoids, which only communicate beneficially with the ECS.
ECS and CBD
The other important cannabinoid found in marijuana is cannabidiol CBD. Unlike THC, CBD does not make “high” and does not generally cause any kind of negative effects. While research is ongoing, experts believe that, unlike THC, CBD does not bind to the CB1 or CB2 receptors directly. Instead, they believe that CBD serves as a protector against agents or threats to endocannabinoids, allowing them to have even greater effects on your body. They believe that CBD serves as the “moderator” of the system, directing the stimulation where needed and protecting the receptors and systems from most negative side effects.
Other scientists suggest that there may be additional receptors, like CB1 and CB2, that simply have not been identified yet that respond directly to CBD. While the information on how exactly it works is still under discussion, research suggests that CBD can help with pain, restlessness, and other symptoms associated with multiple problems.
Do People Have a Lack of Endocannabinoids?
Some experts rely on a theory called professional endocannabinoid deficiency CECD, which recommends that low endocannabinoid levels in your body or EKS dysfunction may contribute to the progression of certain problems. A 2016 article that reviewed more than 10 years of research on the subject suggests that this theory could explain why some people suffer from migraines, fibromyalgia, and even irritable bowel syndrome. None of these diseases have a clear underlying cause. They are also usually immune to treatment and often together. If CECD plays a role in these conditions, the goal of ECS or the production of endocannabinoids may be the missing trick for therapy, although many more studies are needed.
The Bottom Line
The ECS plays a major role in maintaining your internal operations. There is still a lot we do not know. As professionals develop a much better understanding of the ECS, it could ultimately be the key to solving several problems. By understanding the organic Goldilocks concept of homeostasis and how ECS demonstrates this on a mobile level, we can understand much more deeply why we have ECS at the beginning and how a variety of cannabis-based therapies can really work. ECS “existence and vital function in many systems of the body, including the anxious and endogenous immune systems, illustrates why so many diseases and conditions are susceptible to cannabis-based treatments.
Our bodies are wired to accept and use cannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system discovered by scientists in the early 1990s that plays a role in controlling a variety of features and processes throughout the body. It is a system that essentially strives for balance or homeostasis in the body, and acts as a natural receptor for cannabinoid stimuli.