The Endocannabinoid System (ECS): The Mind-Body Bridge
Is the ECS Real?
Yes. Science has proven its existence. In fact, the phytocannabinoid THC is what lead to its discovery. But for so long, the prohibition of cannabis made it difficult for scientists to study cannabinoids and their effects on humans.
In order to understand how cannabinoids work and why they have so many health benefits, one must understand the endocannabinoid (ECS). The first endocannabinoid, anandamide, a naturally occurring cannabinoid in humans, was only discovered as recently as 1992, after which the ECS was discovered.
This is why many of us are just learning about the ECS and its importance in regulating the body’s internal environment. Its discovery and some scientific understanding of it came long after the prohibition of marijuana and the launch of the reefer madness campaign from the early 1900s.
What Is the ECS?
The ECS is a bridge between mind and body. And cannabinoids build that bridge. An individual’s awareness of this system can promote the mind and body’s goal of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the maintenance of a stable inner world. And when homeostasis is out of whack, a better understanding of the ECS and cannabinoids could help both medical professionals and patients decide if cannabinoids can help them re-regulate.
How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?
The ECS is composed of cell receptors and their corresponding endocannabinoid molecules. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are present all over the body. They can be found in the brain, organs, glands, immune cells, skin, and connective tissues. The ECS performs a different task in each tissue. However, the goal remains the same—homeostasis. And this is precisely why cannabinoids have so many health benefits and are able to treat so many diseases and disorders.
Balance and the ECS
Cannabinoids enhance homeostasis on all levels. One example of a homeostatic function is autophagy. This is a process involving the cleaning out the unnecessary or damaging parts of cells. This cell “garbage” is digested and recycled. This function is performed by the ECS and serves two purposes: for healthy cells, it promotes a healthy balance between degradation, synthesis, and recycling of cellular products. And on the flip side, it gets rid of tumor cells or malignant cells. It causes the cells to devour themselves in a coordinated cellular suicide. The ECS is charged with eradicating cancerous cells.
Where Is the ECS?
Endocannabinoids are also present at the intersection of all body systems. This enhances cell-to-cell communication and
coordination. For instance, at an injury site, cannabinoids inhibit the release of activators from injured tissue. This stabilizes the neurons, preventing over-firing, and inhibits the release of pro-inflammatory agents.
How a person relates to the world outside themselves is also influenced by the ECS. Endocannabinoid levels and functions affect a person’s social behavior. They promote creativity and humor as well as sharing.
Parts of the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system plays a very critical role in homeostasis—keeping the whole shebang inside you in balance. It has three key components, namely:
- The endocannabinoid receptors present on the cell surface
- The endocannabinoid molecules which activate the receptors
- Metabolic enzymes that degrade the endocannabinoids after usage
There are two endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. The former is present in large numbers in the brain. Their interaction with THC causes the “high” experienced when a person uses cannabis. CB2 receptors are readily available in the nervous and the immune system. Both receptors are present in other parts of the body.
Scientists have identified two endocannabinoids so far:
- anandamide (AEA)
- 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)
Endocannabinoid interact with endocannabinoid receptors. They help keep internal functions running smoothly. Your body produces them as needed, making it difficult to know what typical levels are for each. As with hormones and other chemical compounds in your body, they can be out of balance or deficient.
Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function.
There are two main enzymes responsible for this:
- fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which breaks down AEA
- monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG
Why the Endocannabinoid System Is Important
Researchers are on a constant search to discover all the ways that the ECS works—the actual mechanisms on a cellular level.
The ECS has a number of therapeutic benefits to the body. These include:
- Pain-relieving effects
- Cancer-fighting properties
- Prevention of neurodegenerative diseases
- Promotion of good health
The ECS ensures that the central nervous system and the immune system are running smoothly.
Memory: Endocannabinoids play an essential role in the removal of old memories. Deletion of troubling memories helps post-traumatic stress disorder patients and also conditions the behavior of those prone to chronic anxiety. Letting go of painful memories allows patients to recover faster and move on.
The ECS aids in the regulation of metabolism and control of transmission of energy through the cells. This ensures effective use of food.
Immune function and inflammation: The ECS helps to boost immune function to promote good health. It helps prevent auto-activation of immune system function, inflammation, and resulting neurological disorders.
The Endocannabinoid System and Hemp Phytocannabinoids
Hemp is an ally to the ECS. Industrial hemp is non-intoxicating. It contains less than one percent of THC.
Hemp phytocannabinoids mimic the behavior of endocannabinoids and interact with cannabinoid receptors to support the ECS. Interaction of the hemp with cannabinoid receptors stimulates various physiological functions in the body.
How THC Interacts with the ECS
One of the compounds present in hemp is THC (though not in significant amounts). It activates receptors, which triggers a response. THC is an agonist of two important endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. THC is most attracted to the CB1 receptor. It doesn’t degrade rapidly. It functions well for pain relief, reduction of nausea, and stimulation of appetite.
How CBD Interacts with the ECS
Cannabidiol (CBD), another cannabinoid derived from hemp, acts as a receptor blocker. Its affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors is very low. Therefore, it does not fit well into the receptors. It doesn’t activate the receptors but instead prevents its binding to other compounds like THC.
Because these hemp plant cannabinoids—and many others— help modulate the ECS, many diseases and conditions can be treated including:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Huntington’s disease
Research and Education
There is a need for more research to understand more deeply how the endocannabinoid system impacts on our health and how supplementing the natural production of endocannabinoids with plant-based cannabinoids could affect our health. Thankfully, scientists are now freer to make strides in filling the knowledge gaps in cannabinoid science.
The Nature’s Breakthrough educational resource is just one of the ways The Hemp Haus practices its sincere commitment to and passion for educating people about CBD and helping them find the right, high-quality product based on their needs.
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