What is The Endocannabinoid System?

Written by Jessica Reilly

Are you familiar with your endocannabinoid system?

As cannabis continues its mainstream surge and more research is conducted, you may have heard about another system in your body; the endocannabinoid system. If you haven’t heard of it, the idea of a new system in your body may be surprising or confusing.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is The Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system, or the ECS, is a biological system in your body with receptors found on every organ. The ECS is composed of endocannabinoids, which are fat-based transmitters. These transmitters bind with cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, to produce the effects we know so well.

What Does The Endocannabinoid System Do?

The ECS is responsible for the way we metabolize and react to cannabis and cannabinoids, and is thought to help us maintain an internal equilibrium.  

Research on the ECS is still in its beginning stages, but scientists agree the ECS plays a crucial role in reaching and maintaining internal homeostasis. The ECS helps us with a variety of functions from sleep and stress management to pain, appetite, energy levels and metabolism. In short, the ECS touches nearly every aspect of our health.

What Are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are organic compounds that occur in the hemp and cannabis plant. There are many kinds of cannabinoids but the two most studied and most well-known cannabinoids are THC and CBD.

Other cannabinoids include:

  • THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
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    • THCA is the precursor to THC before the cannabinoids are heated. THCA is found abundantly throughout the raw cannabis plant, and may act as a superfood, with neuroprotective and anti-emetic qualities.
    •  
  • CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)
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    • CBDA is the precursor to CBD before the cannabinoids are heated.
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  • CBG (Cannabigerol)
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    • CBG is often referred to as the mother of all cannabinoids because other cannabinoids are derived from CBGA, the precursor to CBG.
    •  
  • CBC (Cannabichromenes)
  •  
    • CBC has been shown to encourage human brain growth through increasing the viability of developing brain cells.

Find Your Calm.

How Does The Endocannabinoid System Work?

When you consume cannabis, the THC or CBD cannabinoids bind with the receptors throughout your ECS. In particular, they bind with two receptors, CB1 and CB2. These two receptors produce different effects, depending on which cannabinoid you consume.

THC, also known as Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the most well-known cannabinoid. It produces the side effects associated with a classic high feeling, from euphoria to the munchies. When you consume THC, it binds to your CB1 receptor.

CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is the most abundant cannabinoid because it can come from the hemp or the cannabis plant. It lacks the intoxicating properties of THC and produces a subtle, gentle high without sweeping feelings of euphoria, paranoia, or munchies. That’s because CBD binds with your CB2 receptor, and is an CB1 antagonist, so it produces different side effects.

These are just two of the ECS receptors that exist throughout our bodies, but research on the ECS is limited and in the early phases, so there is still much to be discovered.

Why Do We Have an Endocannabinoid System?

We have an endocannabinoid system because our brains naturally produce cannabinoids. One of these is called anandamide. Anandamide plays a role in our lives from birth, stating with motor coordination and memory processing to appetite stimulation, mood fluctuations, and pain management.

Consuming cannabinoids from cannabis plants can replenish this supply in our body, and help kick our ECS functioning into high gear. If you’ve consumed cannabis to help you sleep better, reduce pain or relieve stress, you have your ECS to thank!

Anandamide was discovered in 1992 by Dr. Lumir Hanus, a Czech Chemist.

Why Don’t We Know More About The Endocannabinoid System?

Research on the ECS is limited, and is only now beginning to become an area of mainstream scientific interest. This is due in part to the international prohibition on cannabis for most of the 20th century, which made research and large-scale studies challenging. Anandamide was discovered in 1992 when Dr. Hanus, along with a team of international researchers, began to investigate why we had a system in our bodies capable of binding with and processing THC. The discovery of anandamide was the first proof that our brains produced cannabinoids, and answered why we were able to process THC.

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