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The Endocannabinoid System: A Closer Look
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is an intricate human system that is designed to maintain balance within the body. All mammals have an ECS, which regulates things like mood, hunger, pain, memory, and stress responses. With such wide-reaching functionality, it’s no wonder that cannabinoids like CBD have such great potential.
Today, we’ll take a closer look at the Endocannabinoid System to help explain why CBD and other cannabinoids have such a profound effect on the body.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The ECS includes a series of endogenous cannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. Scientists first discovered the ECS in 1988 when they realized that THC, a plant-based cannabinoid, directly activated special receptors in the brains of rats. Two years later, scientists named these brain-based receptors“CB1 receptors,” then discovered CB2 receptors throughout the rest of the body three years later.
In 1992, scientists discovered anandamide (AEA), which is an endocannabinoid that the body produces on-demand in response to stress. This realization infers that phyto (plant-based)- cannabinoids can trigger the same responses for the same results. Theoretically, supplementing phytocannabinoids for insufficient endocannabinoids may help people correct a faulty ECS.
To illustrate, Dr. Ethan Russo explains that all humans have an ECS and an underlying endocannabinoid tone, which determines the efficiency by which the Endocannabinoid system functions. Those with decreased ECS functionality may be more sensitive to pain, mood swings, digestion issues, sleep disturbances, and more. As such, Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED) may likely contribute to seemingly unrelated health issues like fibromyalgia, migraines, IBS, and mood disorders. This may explain why cannabinoids like CBD have such a profound impact on these issues.
As mentioned, The ECS has three components: cannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. In healthy bodies, enzymes trigger the production and degradation of cannabinoids on-demand in response to stress. These cannabinoids then bind (or block) cannabinoid receptors to control the flow of information within and between cells and trigger corresponding actions. Most experts generally agree that the purpose of this system is to mitigate damage and maintain balance within the body.
All About Cannabinoids
There are three different types of cannabinoids: endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, and synthetic cannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are those that the body produces naturally, phytocannabinoids are those that develop in plants, and synthetic cannabinoids are those that come from a lab. All bind with cannabinoid receptors but may exert different results and at variable degrees.
The Endocannabinoid System consists of two primary endogenous cannabinoids: anandamide (AEA) 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). AEA, often dubbed “the bliss molecule,” gained its name from the Sanskrit word “Ananda,” which means “internal bliss.” This endocannabinoid is primarily responsible for reward and reinforcement action and possesses many similarities to marijuana (intoxicating, high-THC-type cannabis). Unfortunately, because its primary function is reward circuitry, AEA deficiencies may contribute to chronic stress and depression.
2-Arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG), on the other hand, controls basic functions like cognition, emotion, energy levels, pain perception, learning and memory, and neuroinflammation. Essentially, 2AG acts as a retroactive messenger to inhibit neurotransmitter release at both excitatory and inhibitory synapses, thereby contributing to the plasticity of neural pathways.
Phytocannabinoids develop in plants, namely within the mushroom-shaped resin glands that coat cannabis flowers. Scientists have discovered more than 100 different cannabinoids in cannabis. The cannabinoid THC is most prominent in marijuana-type cannabis and the cannabinoid CBD is most prominent in the non-intoxicating hemp cannabis plant.
Importantly, cannabinoids from hemp are not intoxicating and will not cause users to feel “high.” Hemp is the only cannabis type that is federally legal in the US.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is a psychoactive cannabinoid most commonly associated with a marijuana “high.” The non-acidic chemical binds easily to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body, which may cause changes in cognition, memory, pain perception, appetite, sleeping patterns, and more. Common side effects of THC vary and include dizziness, confusion, memory loss, erratic heartbeat, and increased anxiety.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is the primary cannabinoid in non-intoxicating hemp. It exerts a unique effect on the Endocannabinoid System by partially blocking cannabinoid receptors instead of binding directly. As a CB receptor antagonist, CBD can help control which information passes within and between cells instead of just prompting them to act. Consequently, CBD may help regulate sleep, dull pain perception, reduce inflammation, improve mood, stimulate bone growth, and more. Moreover, it may also help balance THC by blocking it from entering CB receptors.
Unlike THC, CBD poses no apparent threats, and the side effects are incredibly mild. According to the World Health Organization, “CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
Cannabigerolic acid, or CBGa, is the precursor to three other acidic phytocannabinoids: THCa, CBDa, and CBCa. As hemp flowers mature, this cannabinoid transforms into either THCa or CBDa, which later transform into THC or CBD respectively once exposed to heat or excessive light. Notably, CBGa is a product of immature flowers, so it is rarely present in most cannabis products. Instead, most growers allow flowers to fully mature before harvest, leaving very little CBGa behind. However, we’ve recently learned that CBG may have therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammation and serotonin receptor modulation. As such, some breeders have developed special CBG hemp seeds with a disruption along the biosynthetic pathway that prevents CBGa from further development.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System: Final Thoughts
The Endocannabinoid System functions through a complex dance of neurons, enzymes, and receptors. If any of these three elements lack or suffer, one may experience pain, sleeplessness, anxiety, and more. Fortunately, plant-based cannabinoids called phytocannabinoids may help jump-start an imbalanced ECS. CBD, in particular, may do so with relatively little worry or concern for side effects.
Are you ready to try CBD? Shop our line of hemp-based CBD products to see for yourself just how productive your EC System can be.