What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The discovery of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in the 1990s helped broaden the scope of how scientists understood not just how cannabis and its compounds impact the body, but how the body functions overall. Over the past 20+ years of research into the subject, new information is constantly being discovered – yet our understanding of the system is still far from complete.
Currently, the ECS is defined as “the ensemble of the two 7-transmembrane-domain and G protein-coupled receptors for Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol: cannabinoid receptor type-1 and cannabinoid receptor type-2”.1 If you’re asking yourself “What does that mean?” you’re not alone – the definition is confusing even among experts, and is evolving constantly. The important thing to know is this: the ECS regulates our body’s natural cannabinoids as well as those from cannabis. Did you know your body makes its own cannabinoids? There are 2 we know of – Anandamide and 2-AG (short for arachidonoylglycerol). Let’s dive in!
Anandamide, named using the Sanskrit root word “ananda” (meaning bliss), helps to regulate our mood and ability to manage stress. It’s also thought that Anandamide may be primarily responsible for the runner’s high, a euphoria felt commonly after strenuous exercise. See our blog post on this for more info! This endocannabinoid is produced by the body, but is degraded rapidly by an enzyme called FAAH (fatty amino acid hydrolase). Recent studies suggest that consuming the phytocannabinoid CBD can help to slow this degradation, making the effects of Anandamide last longer.
In addition to its impact on our mental state, Anandamide is also thought to play a role in our metabolism, appetite, sleep cycles, and fertility.2 This one small compound affects our bodies and minds in some truly far-reaching ways.
The second known endocannabinoid is 2-AG. Far less research has been done into this compound, despite it occurring in a higher concentration than Anandamide. One of the main things we do know is that 2-AG only binds to cannabinoid receptors – nowhere else in the body. This is different from Anandamide, which interacts with other receptor types in addition to cannabinoid receptors. For this reason, many scientists view 2-AG as the “true natural ligand for cannabinoid receptors”.3
Much like its sister endocannabinoid, 2-AG plays a role in our mental health and is related to how we experience pleasure & rewards. It has also been shown to be part of what causes feelings of relaxation and contentment after sex; 2-AG levels boost significantly post-orgasm.4
While it may not get as much attention as Anandamide, 2-AG is just as important to our bodies when it comes to maintaining homeostasis! We look forward to updating this when more information is researched.
What does the Endocannabinoid System do?
You’ve met your two known endocannabinoids and learned a little about them – ready to learn more about the system overall?
Our body has cannabinoid receptors (types 1 and 2) located throughout the entire body. CB1 receptors occur predominantly in the Central Nervous System and are also distributed throughout the skin and other organs. CB2s can be found in the CNS as well, but are most common in the gastrointestinal tract and immune system. Each receptor type regulates different parts of the many ways the ECS impacts homeostasis!
While we know the ECS affects things like sleep, appetite, bone growth, mood, memory, and more,5 there is still so much more to learn. And, despite being known since the late 90s, the Endocannabinoid System was not discussed in most medical schooling until around 2015; even now that it is taught, the education surrounding it is extremely minimal. Since the ECS impacts so many parts of the body, not covering it in medical education is staggering. In our opinion, it’s akin to not teaching the importance of the skeletal or nervous system! We hope to see education on this crucial part of the body grow in the coming years.
Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome
Of the seemingly endless roles the ECS plays in the human body, the most important may be maintaining homeostasis. If our endocannabinoids are out of whack for any reason, it’s theorized this can lead to a variety of problems. According to a 2016 study, “if endocannabinoid function were decreased, it follows that a lowered pain threshold would be operative, along with derangements of digestion, mood, and sleep”.6 The most compelling data for what is being called CED (Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency) are chronic migraine, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The same study notes that “a strong case can be advanced for unifying pathophysiological trends in the three conditions”. It’s no surprise then, that these same three conditions are among the most commonly-reported amongst medical cannabis and CBD consumers!
Phytocannabinoids can help restore an offset balance in our bodies. While everyone’s Endocannabinoid System is unique (and as such, so is the way they react to phytocannabinoids), something as simple as incorporating CBD into your daily routine can be beneficial to restoring homeostasis. Although it requires some experimentation to learn what works best for your needs, restoring and maintaining the body’s balance is likely worth the added effort. Curious to learn what may work best for you? Reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to help!