If you are wondering how CBD interacts with your body, the answer is through the endocannabinoid system.
What is the endocannabinoid system, and why is it important to CBD? Short answer: The ECS makes sure our body is in harmony, and it has pretty much everything to do with CBD’s health benefits.
It is responsible for regulating balance in our body’s immune response and communication between cells, appetite, metabolism and memory. In spite of the integral role this system takes on, it up until recently wasn’t even known as part of the human body’s functions. Scientists were studying the effects of the cannabis plant in the 80s’ and discovered this wonderful, very central system.
How crazy is that?
In this article, we will review what makes up this crucial system, including how it operates and more specifically, how it responds to the consumption or absorption of CBD.
Let’s start with the basics and work our way up to the technical stuff.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
Named after the plant that inspired its presence, the one and only cannabis plant, this system is essential to everyone’s overall health and equilibrium. It is through the ECS that the naturally occurring cannabinoids from medical marijuana interact with our bodies and trigger its beneficial effects.
With the potential to greatly affect the way our bodies operate, a healthy endocannabinoid system is key to feeling great. And we must recognize how to maintain it to stay in a state of optimum well-being.
The endocannabinoid system is activated by a group of chemical compounds called cannabinoids (remember, CBD is a cannabinoid) and it works by promoting and maintaining homeostasis. It consists of cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids, explained below.
Endocannabinoids, naturally-producing cannabinoids by the body, and cannabinoid receptors, cannabinoids produced externally by the environment (like CBD) are found throughout the body in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands and immune cells. The endocannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: To maintain and promote homeostasis, or the “maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.”
Cannabinoid receptors are receivers of chemical messages brought on by cannabinoids. Located on the surface of cells, they monitor conditions outside of the cells, transmitting information when they get word of changing conditions. After the information is processed, the cannabinoid receptors activate the appropriate cellular responses.
Let us demonstrate a hypothetical: You feel cold from the wind blowing (an external factor happening outside of the body), your cannabinoids sense you are cold, so they tell your cannabinoid receptors, who in turn work to regulate your body temperature back to “normal.”
Now, there are two main types of cannabinoid receptors – CB1 and CB2 receptors. They each have their own responsibilities and functions with the same goal as everything else we’ve mentioned – to keep your body in a state of harmony.
CB1 Receptors are mostly found in the central nervous system, so they have an impact on behaviors influenced by the nervous system like memory, emotional processing, appetite regulation and pain reduction.
CB2 Receptors are especially abundant in the immune system. When these puppies are activated, they focus on reducing inflammation. And because inflammation is an immune response playing a significant role in the development of so many health problems (gut health ring a bell, anyone?) they help prevent a lot of inflammation-related diseases and conditions.
What does all this have to do with CBD? According to researchers, THC has an incredibly high tendency to bind with CB1 receptors, explaining its psychoactive effects and ability to alleviate depression and pain.
In contrast to THC, CBD does not bind to these cannabinoid receptors, which explains why it doesn’t produce the mind-altering effects that THC does. In fact, CBD counteracts THC, so it has an indirect effect on the activity of these cannabinoid receptors.
An easy way to understand endocannabinoids is the comparison of a “runner’s high” and a cannabis “high.”
The human body naturally produces molecules (endocannabinoids) that are similar to those found in the cannabis plant (cannabinoids). These molecules have a variety of functions, including inspiring a feeling of euphoria after exercise, explaining the common “runner’s high.”
So in a way, when you consume cannabis (CBD, THC or a combination of the two), you are supplementing your own endocannabinoids with a plant-based version. Kind of cool, right?
To date, scientists have discovered two main types of endocannabinoids: Anandamide and 2-Arachidonoyl Glycerol (or 2-AG). These substances are produced and used only when they are needed, and have binding affinity to both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
As endocannabinoids engage with the endocannabinoid system, CBD (when consumed) strengthens and prolongs the positive effects of the ECS. This is perhaps why endocannabinoids are referred to as “the body’s own cannabis.”
How Does the ECS Work?
Now that you have the gist of the role endocannabinoids and cannabinoids play within the larger signaling system that is the ECS, let’s talk about how the endocannabinoid system works.
As mentioned before, the overarching goal of the ECS is to promote homeostasis. Homeostasis does more than just balance the body. It maintains a stable environment in our bodies despite changes in the external environment, facilitating coordination and communication between different types of cells and systems to ensure everything is working efficiently together. This teamwork helps the body prevent and overcome health problems. In a general sense, the ECS is responsible for maintaining and reaching optimal health levels.
A prime example of how the ECS operates has to do with an injury occurring: When an injury occurs, the endocannabinoid system reduces the release of sensitizers and activators from the injured tissue. Then, it stabilizes the nerve cell to prevent it from firing excessively (aka causing throbbing pain). In addition, the ECS calms the surrounding immune cells to prevent the release of substances that can aggravate inflammation. Its primary function here was to reduce pain and damage caused by the injury.
In addition to lessening our physical pains, the endocannabinoid system essentially regulates all of the basic functions and patterns our body has to deal with. While the system has a plethora of various functions, it lends a serious helping hand in the following:
- Immune Function
- Neuroprotection and Development
How can you support your endocannabinoid system?
Consuming CBD is honestly one of the easiest and most effective ways to boost your endocannabinoid system.
Much like a traditional health supplement or wellness vitamin, cannabis (CBD in particular) nourishes the ECS by replacing endocannabinoids and/or enhancing the endocannabinoid tone.
While taking cannabis can indeed provide symptom relief and even temporarily correct an endocannabinoid deficiency, there a few simple lifestyle rules to follow in order to support the endocannabinoids in your body.
The same basic formula which alleviates and prevents so many of life’s problems also applies to supporting the endocannabinoid system: (1) Exercise (2) Healthy Diet (3) Sleep
Exercise is one of the best ways to engage the ECS. Research has proven that exercise triggers the release of anandamide in humans, providing them with a feel-good boost after breaking a sweat (refer back to the “runner’s high” example).
Endocannabinoids are derived from dietary fats like avocados, eggs and nuts, which are vital for human health. Research shows that consuming linoleic acid (commonly found in hemp oil) elevates levels of both 2-AG and anandamide in the body, enhancing the health effects of the ECS.
Not surprisingly, not getting enough sleep can throw the endocannabinoid system off balance, leading to all sorts of issues like anxiety, weight gain and mood swings. So, get your proper rest to keep your ECS happy.
The endocannabinoid system regulates all of the basic functions and patterns our body has to deal with including mood, memory, immune function, inflammation, digestion and pain. This integral system allows us to feel great, but we have to treat it right in order for it to produce its magic.
When looking to boost your body’s natural endocannabinoids healthily, keep your body moving, eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods, get good quality sleep every night, and of course, supplement with CBD.
As CBD is now widely available in a variety of forms in both online and offline stores, it is essential you pick the right products to get the best results from CBD’s plentiful therapeutic benefits.
- The role of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis within the body
- Cannabinoid receptors are external cannabinoids found in the environment
- Endocannabinoids are naturally-producing cannabinoids within the body
- We have the ability to control the health and proper functioning of our ECS with our lifestyle choices, including the consumption of CBD