ECS brain and cannabis leaf with stethoscope
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The Endocannabinoid System: What is it and What Does it Do?

The passing of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the 2018 Farm Bill, has already done a great service to reputable cannabidiol (CBD) producers and distributors. Because CBD is now legal in all 50 states, as is its transportation across state lines, its health, general wellness and beauty benefits are now becoming more and more widely accepted. Both by the general public and the scientific community.

But even as its benefits continue to be backed up by study after study, for many people there still remains a basic lack of knowledge about specifically how and why CBD works so effectively. The short answer to this question is fairly simple: it’s all about CBD’s effect on the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). For a more detailed explanation of what that short answer actually means, read on.

 

ECS skeleton with hand by face

The endocannabinoid system is present throughout the body.

The ECS is one of the body’s central nervous system’s critical neurotransmitter communications tools that works to control our physical and mental actions, reactions and even moods. It is made up of three elements, all of which have different functions. When working together properly, they keep the body, mind, and spirit in good working order. Briefly, the ECS is comprised of the following:

 

Endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids are chemical compounds which are found, produced and synthesized naturally within the body (specifically, within the ECS—which makes sense, because scientists named the system in their honor and in recognition of their critical role within it. Cannabinoids are natural extracts from the cannabis plant, which—when necessary and used correctly—mimic or recreate the effect of our nervous system’s own endocannabinoids.

Receptors within the central nervous system

Endocannabinoids and plant cannabinoids both bond with different receptors in our bodies. The two receptor types that are best understood at the moment are:

  • CB1: found in the central nervous system—specifically, within the brain and our spinal-cord nerves, and
  • CB2: found in the peripheral nervous system (like your extremities: hands, fingers, feet, etc.), digestive system and some cells within the immune system.

 

Enzymes

The final piece of the ECS puzzle is the group of enzymes that work to break down endocannabinoids and cannabinoids. Remember, our bodies make endocannabinoids; cannabinoids come from the seeds and stalks of the cannabis plant. Both bind to the receptors described above. However, our bodies’ enzymes neutralize their effects very differently.

For example, THC—which is the cannabinoid found in cannabis indica that gets you high—bonds to the CB1 receptor. Our bodies also produce an endocannabinoid, called anandamide, that bonds with the same CB1 receptor. This endocannabinoid does not produce a high…but it does have a calming effect within the body. The reason anandamide is beneficially calming without the more mind-altering high produced by THC is our body’s FAAH enzyme. FAAH’s job is to break down endocannabinoids like anandamide, which it does properly with our own naturally occurring chemicals. However, it does not work so effectively with the cannabinoid THC. This leads to the drug’s lingering, mind-altering effects.

This, incidentally, is where the good news about CBD really starts to make sense. Because CBD is a natural cannabinoid from cannabis sativa, our FAAH enzyme has a harder, slower time breaking it down. But, because CBD does not produce the same mind-altering effects of THC, this is advantageous. It allows anandamide to produce a stable, longer calming effect than it would if it were being broken down more quickly. The calming, anti-anxiety effects are greater; the negatives are removed.

This is just one example, of course, and there are many others. But understanding how the elements of the ECS work together is crucial in figuring out why the discovery of CBD’s effects is such a hopeful breakthrough for our general health. And it’s interesting, too, because the whole ECS was originally discovered by scientists who dedicated years to studying the effects marijuana had on people. Identifying CBD and its non-mind-altering but incredibly therapeutic effects on the body was a major, and completely unanticipated, revelation.

 

ECS CBD products on tray sitting on fur

What we know about the capabilities of the ECS.

Understanding endocannabinoid signaling, what makes up the ECS, and how all the pieces work together is one thing. But even more important is understanding precisely what it can do.

As a reminder, the ECS affects five major parts of the body:

  • The central nervous system (where CB1 lives);
  • The brain (CB1 again);
  • The intestinal tract (both CB1 and CB2 are present here),
  • The immune system (which lives within the peripheral nervous system but is a major CB2 receptor house of its own; and
  • The peripheral nervous system (this is where the majority of CB2 receptors live—specifically and primarily within the extremities and the immune system).

 

In essence, the ECS works within these five areas to regulate homeostasis in the human body. This is the ability of a living being (in this case, humans), to keep their internal systems stable regardless of external changes or stimulations.

A simple example of human homeostasis is our body’s ability to keep its internal temperature at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit—a function of the central nervous system. When our core temperature dips or rises significantly above or below this level, we know that something is wrong in the immune system or peripheral nervous system (in the case of something like hypothermia).

Or, when we are hungry (the intestinal tract), our stomach growls or we get appetite pains. When we are dangerously hungry, we can feel faint or physically sick.

During times of stress, sadness or grief, we can feel almost “mad” with anxiety or depression. Our brain is unable to control our emotions within normal bounds.

In all of these examples: temperature, severe hunger and anxiety/depression, our homeostasis is out of whack. And our body activates our ECS to correct the problem.

 

ECS bright green cannabis leaves

Research scientists are learning more every day.

The public is developing more understanding of the difference between CBD and its wide-ranging health benefits and THC and its long-demonized association with illegal drug use. As this happens, research into CBD’s benefits continues to progress not only quickly but also effectively.

Already, the FDA has approved Epidiolex, a CBD-based drug that is having excellent effects on two forms of epilepsy that do not respond to typical treatments.

Numerous European studies have consistently shown CBD’s usefulness in fighting inflammation associated with everything from rheumatoid arthritis to chronic pain. There is even hope on the horizon for sufferers of multiple sclerosis, through treatments with simple CBD lotions and tinctures.

 

ECS cannabis leaves plants with buds

CBD is here to stay.

The government has made CBD legal. The public has accepted it as a non-threatening, incredibly helpful and therapeutic treatment for a host of issues. In a nutshell, CBD has proved itself in the toughest gladiator arenas of them all, and is still standing. And, thanks to its benefits, so are more and more people who might otherwise suffer in silence. CBD For Life provides the best in health and beauty products formulated to maximize the benefit to your endocannabinoid system. Still have questions? Reach out online, or leave a comment below!

 

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