What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is a network of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors that exist throughout our bodies and “listen” to what’s going on there and make sure all is fine. It is thought to exist in pretty much all animals on earth, and it is absolutely crucial to our survival.
Both of the CB1 and CB2 receptors are part of a system discovered over 30 years ago called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), otherwise known as the regulator of all systems.
What is the ECS’ role in the body?
The ECS resides within all animals except insects and is integral to homeostasis (maintaining balance) within the body. This network uses compounds known as cannabinoids as messengers, which cause downstream effects within our body.
Interestingly, there is not a single function within our bodies that isn’t somehow directly influenced or regulated by the ECS! You can think of it as a switchboard that functions across all physiological functions and organs, interacting and reacting to both internal and external stimuli to direct, correct, and maintain our health.
By overseeing other functions, the ECS regulates vital systems in our body, including but not limited to:
- The endocrine system
- The digestive system
- The cardiovascular system
It simple terms the ECS can be broken down into three core components:
- Receptors that interact with stimuli to direct a response.
- Molecules which bind with the receptors to initiate an action, otherwise known as endocannabinoids.
- Synthetizing enzymes that make these endocannabinoids when they are needed and degradative enzymes that break them down when they are no longer needed.
Endogenous cannabinoids are our primary source of cannabinoids and keep the lights on within the ECS. However, there is another abundant source that is available via the consumption of plant-derived (phyto)cannabinoids found in cannabis.
You probably don’t know that there are over 200 phytocannabinoids in cannabis, of which the two most established are THC and CBD. If you’ve wondered how CBD works and why it’s so popular, it is because of its interactions with CB2 receptors, which yield its wide variety of potential benefits.
More generally, it is the sphere of influence our endocannabinoid system has on other bodily functions, which is what makes the implications of ensuring functionality through the production and consumption of endogenous and plant-derived cannabinoids critical to our health.