The Endocannabinoid System, or ECS, is a body system that you may not have heard much about until now. It certainly wasn’t a part of our biology classes in school while learning rhymes about cells to help us study for midterms (yea, that information has long since left the building, to be replaced by more important data like where we left our car keys). And yet, the ECS is a fundamental part of your health and wellbeing as any of these other systems.
So what is the Endocannabinoid System, and where exactly is it in our bodies?
The ECS is a system that interfaces with all the other systems in your body, deciding when to release certain hormones as needed, like in times of stress, or even when you are having sex. That’s why scientists are getting excited about the ECS and its importance. It literally affects such basic and necessary human functions such as sleeping, eating, having sex, giving birth, and regulating our immune systems. Yep, that’s major.
Now you may be wondering about this name, Endocannabinoid. To answer your question, no – there is not actually any cannabis in your Endocannabinoid System; the name references this system being able to jump into action when triggered by a cannabinoid. Here’s the kicker: your body produces its own internal cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids) which the ECS processes, as well as any external cannabinoids you might come into contact with (such as those from THC and CBD.)
Endocannabinoids are present in our whole body in cell membranes. Even if you never consume cannabis, you have endocannabinoids. If you do consume cannabis, the phytocannabinoids can bind with your receptors and stimulate, support, and nourish your ECS. Supporting the ECS results in a host of benefits, including reducing anxiety, combating certain diseases, and managing various conditions.
So while it is tough to map it all out on paper because of its complexity, the ECS regulates both physical functions (movement, pain sensation, and immune responses) as well as cognitive functions (perception, mood, and memory).
There are endocannabinoids we create on-demand to reduce inflammation and support our body as it tries to keep the wheels on this crazy bus.
An ECS that works well, keeps your body in check and is the key to maintaining overall health.
How does the Endocannabinoid System work?
Let’s look at the ECS as a tale in three parts:
- Receptors that detect molecules outside of cells (now THAT part was in biology class – try to think back to it…)
- Cannabinoids – those that are either produced within our bodies or phytocannabinoids – those that are produced in plants (yep, THC and CBD to name a few)
- Enzymes (okay, technically called degradative enzymes) that break down the cannabinoids after they’ve done their job (helping you chill out, stopping that nagging migraine) to keep the ECS from running off with the keys to the whole ship. Remember, our bodies always want homeostasis.
So we know that there is a complex set of cannabinoid receptors all throughout our body that makes up the endocannabinoid system or ECS. Think of receptors (aka neurons) like little locks located all over your body. Cannabinoids are the keys, finding these locks and interacting with them to signal a chemical release. This is why when you pop an edible or smoke a joint, you feel a change in your body – the locks and keys have worked together to create a chemical reaction, and that leads our bodies to respond with other reactions.
These receptors respond to both your natural endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids. Fun fact: while there are over 100 phytocannabinoids in cannabis you can also find them in tasty things like black truffles and chocolate.
CB1 + CB2 and How They Affect You
No, these are not the names for the newest Crate and Barrel stores. These are a few of the receptors within the ECS (there are others, but we don’t know much about those yet). CB1 is located primarily in the brain, nervous system, intestines, connective tissues, reproductive organs, and other glands. By activating the CB1 receptor, you may experience a host of benefits, and effects vary by individuals.
CB2 is found primarily in the immune system and peripheral nervous system. Activated CB2 receptors can address inflammatory conditions and help boost your own immune systems natural response.
CBD and Your Endocannabinoid System
So while CBD doesn’t create a “high”, it supports our own ECS and helps to regulate it. CBD may also help our body create more natural cannabinoids, thus, feeling better more of the time, naturally.
CBD actually prevents THC from binding fully to their receptors, making CBD a super awesome safety net to help reduce the psychoactive effects of THC. While it may regulate THC absorption, it also helps us get the benefits of both cannabinoids.
CBD interacts with the body through a bunch of other mechanisms, rather than being a key that fits a lock as we described earlier. If you are thinking this sounds complicated, you would be right! CBD acts within the body like a multi-targeted drug. It interacts with our receptors, influences our calcium levels which in turn impacts muscle function, and acts as a powerful antioxidant.
Ways to support the ECS:
You may be able to improve your ECS “tone” or overall health of your ECS system by things that you put into your body, or your lifestyle. Eating a diet high in omega 3 fatty acids, maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, and regular exerciseare some of the things scientists believe will help your ECS health. This, in theory, would positively impact your overall health.
You can also experiment with seeing how triggering your ECS will affect your overall health with the consumption of Phytocannabinoids (those from plants!) Ready to see your ECS in action? Alchemy Naturals has Full-Spectrum and Broad-Spectrum Hemp Extracts in varying dosages, as well as edible Squibs, so you can start experimenting. Find your next Alchemy Naturals product here.