Understanding What The Endocannabinoid System Is
The Endocannabinoid System is relatively new to the scientific and medical community. While CBD was first isolated as a substance from the hemp plant in Israel in 1964, and the first cannabinoid receptor was spotted in a rat brain more than twenty years later in 1988. Two years later, Lisa Matsuda and her team at The Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences helped specifically identify and subsequently cloned CB receptors. This is when scientific understanding of the endocannabinoid system began to take shape. They found that endocannabinoids and the receptors they bind to exist throughout the body in the central nervous system, glands, immune cells, organs, and many different connective tissues.
The Meta System Of The Body
The endocannabinoid system permeates all of the other eleven unique systems in the body and helps direct their functions. For this reason, it is often described as a “meta-system” interacting with these systems while also governing them. Just as the nervous system keeps everything connected and communicating, this one system aids in regulating almost every single aspect of our well being.
In each part of the body, the complex endocannabinoid system performs different tasks, but it always has the same goal in mind: homeostasis or balance.
The ECS (Endocannabinoid System) involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Endocannabinoids, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules made by your body. They’re similar to cannabinoids, but they’re produced by your body. Experts have identified two key endocannabinoids so far:
- anandamide (AEA)
- 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)
Another way of looking at cannabinoids is like keys within the endocannabinoid system, while receptors act like locks. Every time one key fits into a lock, the lock is opened and causes an effect to occur in the body. The effect that occurs depends on the lock and where it is within the body.
These help keep internal functions running smoothly. Your body produces them as needed, making it difficult to know what typical levels are for each.
The body has endocannabinoids that bind to the receptors in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action.
There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:
- CB1 receptors are mostly found present in the central nervous system , primarily the brain and spinal cord. They work to regulate appetite, memory, and to reduce pain.
- CB2 receptors are most prominently present within the immune system, but exist through many other areas of the body, including the gut, spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands, and reproductive organs. The CB2 receptors are also plentiful on the skin which allows topicals to influence the ECS. CB2 receptor primary role is reducing inflammation throughout the body Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The effects that result depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.
For example, endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others might bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body’s experiencing inflammation, a common sign of autoimmune disorders.
An enzyme is any substance within the body that causes a chemical reaction to occur or accelerates one that is already happening. Enzymes act within the ECS to recycle endocannabinoids after the body uses them. Try thinking of them as the cleanup crew, Their main purpose is to make sure that once the endocannabinoids have been used, they are broken down and not available for longer than needed. Without enzymes to help regulate the use of cannabinoids, the ECS would not be able to reach homeostasis.There are two main enzymes responsible for this.
- fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA
- monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG
What are the functions of the Endocannabinoid Sysytem ?
As you have just read there is a lot of stuff going on within the system at any given time. Experts are still researching all of its potential functions.
Research so far has linked the Endocannabinoid System to the following processes:
- appetite and digestion
- chronic pain
- inflammation and other immune system responses
- learning and memory
- motor control
- cardiovascular system function
- muscle formation
- bone remodeling and growth
- liver function
- reproductive system function
- skin and nerve function
These functions all contribute to homeostasis, which refers to stability of your internal environment. For example, if an outside force, such as pain from an injury or a fever, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS kicks in to help your body return to its ideal operation. The one thing experts do agree on thus far is that the primary role of the ECS is to maintaining homeostasis (balance)
The Bottom Line
The ECS plays a big role in keeping your internal processes stable. However, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the endocannabinoid system. As experts develop a better understanding of the ECS, it could eventually hold the key to treating several conditions.
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