The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
What is the ECS
Unknown prior to the late 1990's, we now know that the ECS (endocannabinoid system) is perhaps the largest type of receptor system we have in our body, and animals are the same. When we are in homeostasis (good health) our bodies endocannabinoid system makes sufficient amounts of cannabinoids.
When under stress or suffering from pain and other troubles, our ECS can't make enough to maintain us. So it is good to know that we can turn to the hemp plant, one of our many friends in the plant kingdom to supplement and boost our ECS and return to homeostasis.
Scientists were able to isolate numerous phytochemicals from the cannabis plant — cannabinoids, terpenes, & flavonoids — and by studying their effects found a web of receptors, enzymes, and biochemical pathways in the human body that were designed to look for and uptake them. Further, these were significantly involved in maintaining homeostasis (wellness).
Although research focused primarily on humans and other mammals, it turned out that we share these neurochemicals with most members of the animal kingdom: mammals, birds, amphibians, fish, and more. It is very clear that the endocannabinoid system (ECS, endo means within us) evolved over 600 million years ago along with the phytochemicals contained within the plant kingdom.
We know that phytocannabinoids are very helpful to us and our four legged friends we know as dogs and cats. The benefits that most people experience and see in their pets are very evident. Stay tuned for future blogs on this.
Neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are chemical messengers of the nervous system. Similarly, endocannabinoids (eCBs) are the messengers of the ECS, and are produced throughout your body.
The two key eCBs circulating in our bodies are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol. Just like the phytocannabinoids in cannabis, these neurotransmitters are built from lipids (fats or oils). (The lipid-based structure of cannabinoids is the reason why THC and CBD are fat-soluble...and why your typical cannabis or hemp extract is delivered in an oil base like coconut or butter.)
Anandamide was discovered in the 1990's and gets its name from the Sanskrit word ananda which means bliss. This molecule operates throughout the endocannabinoid system and is involved with appetite, memory, pregnancy and many more functions. It's even been identified as the source of runner's high.
2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) might not have a glorious name but recent scientific findings suggest that it is at least as important as its famous sister molecule, anandamide. 2-AG has been linked to our emotional states, protection from seizures, and maintaining cardiovascular health.
Cannabinoid receptors (CB receptors)
If eCBs are the messengers, then cannabinoid receptors are the guards posted at the city wall, waiting for the messengers. Receptors sit on cell surfaces, waiting for specific neurotransmitters to bind to them. Depending on the type of cell the receptor is on, the downstream effect will rapidly impact immunity, sensation, mood, and even consciousness and ultimately health & wellness.
We have CB receptors throughout our bodies, guarding a wide variety of cell types & responses. Different cell types have different receptors, which are sensitive to different types of ECBs. The two main receptors of the endocannabinoid system are CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors are essential for a healthy functioning brain and are one of the most common receptors in the entire nervous system. Depending on what region of the brain they are located in, they can be moderators of your memory, mood, motor function, or your perception of pain. These brain receptors are also responsible for the psychoactive properties of cannabis when THC binds to them.
Although CB1 receptors are most common in the central nervous system, we find them throughout the human body at lower densities. In other parts of the body, CB1 receptors also have roles in pregnancy, hormone production, cardiovascular health and digestion.
CB2 receptors are most often found on the cells of our immune system. They help moderate inflammation and our immune response to pathogens. If you use cannabis products to combat conditions of an overactive immune system (i.e., arthritis, asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders or digestive issues like inflammatory bowel disease) you can thank your CB2 receptors.
Special Effects of CBD
Most cannabinoids can bind to both types of receptors — CB1 & CB2. This is true for both the endo cannabinoids — anandamide & 2-AG — and for phyto cannabinoids like THC.
However, the phyto cannabinoid CBD doesn’t directly trigger either receptor. Instead, it modifies the receptors' ability to bind to cannabinoids.
Enzymes: Building & Recycling eCBs
So far we’ve discussed the messengers and the message-receivers, but who makes the messenger?
Your body has a whole suite of molecules devoted to controlling when & where eCBs are produced, and how quickly they get sequestered or broken down. You might think of these molecules as the administrative system, making sure the messenger is sent exactly when and only when desired.
Endocannabinoids are lipid-based neurotransmitters — which means they are synthesized from fats. Your body has a number of different enzymes that work together to transform fatty substances into anandamide and 2-AG. When your body gets the signal to produce eCBs, these enzymes are put to work.
One important thing we've learned about this process is that increasing your daily intake of omega-3 and other fatty acids may help your body boost its production of eCBs because these fatty acids are specific building blocks for eCBs.
Sending the Messenger...
Cannabinoids are fat-soluble, but your body is mostly composed of water. In order for cannabinoids to travel through your body and reach their targets, they need to be escorted by endocannabinoid transport proteins. Much the way soap disperses oil into water, these proteins help eCBs flow smoothly through the body’s waterways.
Killing the Messenger
Every “on” switch needs a corresponding “off” switch.
Once anandamide and 2-AG have delivered their messages, the body needs a way to prevent them from continuing to stimulate the ECS indefinitely. eCBs are rapidly moved by transport proteins to storage sites and/or delivered to enzymes that degrade eCBs.
The two most-studied enzymes in the ECS are FAAH (which degrades anandamide) and MAGL (which breaks down 2-AG).
FAAH is especially interesting: A genetic variation in 20% of adults impairs their FAAH enzyme — and the result is that these people have increased levels of anandamide and are generally less anxious. Because CBD inhibits these enzymes it tends to increase the body’s levels of feel-good anandamide and 2-AG.
A Growing Family
Each eCB can bind to multiple receptors and vice versa — a complex web of relationships. To add to this complexity, there are other molecules that can facilitate or interfere with this binding.
Like an intricate family tree, the ECS family keeps growing as scientists learn more about each individual’s numerous relationships.
Because it’s involved with so many aspects of human health, research on the endocannabinoid system has exploded since its discovery less than 30 years ago. In recent years, thousands of original research papers have been published on eCBs. It’s amazing that even with all that research, we’re only just starting to grasp the true potential of this system.
Supporting a Healthy ECS
One major takeaway from these studies is the unfortunate reality that the endocannabinoid system is very easy to throw out of balance. Stress levels, diet and exercise all influence your body’s ECS, and our modern lifestyles may be taking a toll on this natural system. Chemicals in our food, water and air further tax the bodies ability to remain in a condition of wellness.
If you are trying to rebalance your endocannabinoid system, the recent legalization of cannabis and hemp products in many states and countries has made self-experimentation possible. There are more than 100 different phytocannabinoids — including THC, THCa, THCv, CBD, CBDa, CBN, CBG, etc — and each one can have slightly different interactions with the CB receptors throughout your body.
However, because CB receptors control so many different aspects of your nervous and immune systems, and because of genetic variation in enzymes, it isn’t possible to perfectly predict what reaction you’ll have without self-experimentation. So start small and adjust according to your need.
Many people have found great relief in many ways from Full Spectrum CBD oil. CBD Tinctures, CBD Softgels, and CBD Gummies are the three best ways to supplement, in that order.
First, when a CBD Tincture is placed under the tongue and allowed 15-20 seconds to self-absorb, it enters the blood stream without going through the digestive tract. This makes it the best way to supplement it as it allows for greater uptake.
Secondly, CBD Softgels are an easy and effective supplement format, although the uptake is lessened due to the digestive track. It has proven to be a popular form however.
Third, CBD Gummies and other CBD Edibles are a fun and popular way to take CBD oil. They come in good tasting flavors. Many people use these to get a dose during the day and the other forms for before bed.
Helping people live live more abundantly,
Triple Crown Organics.