The Endocannabinoid System…For Dummies

To understand CBD and its many benefits, it’s important to understand the systems that it benefits. Let’s dig in to the Endocannabinoid System (or ECS); a vast network of chemical signals and cellular receptors that are densely packed throughout our brains and bodies.

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The endocannabi…what!? We know, it’s a mouthful! To keep things simple, here are the basics:

  • It is a system present in our bodies that researchers are continuously studying. To date, we know the ESC plays a role in helping to regulate sleep, mood, appetite, memory, fertility, and more! 
  • This system actively exists in all of our bodies even in folks who do not use cannabis.
  • There are three components of the ECS:
    1. Endocannabinoids: These are produced by your body and are similar to cannabinoids.
    2. Receptors: Found throughout the body, but mostly in the central and peripheral nervous systems; endocannabinoids bind to these to send signals to the ECS. Right now we know most about the CB1 and CB2 receptors:
      • CB1 – These exist mostly in the brain. These act like traffic control; adjusting the levels and activity of most of the other neurotransmitters.
      • CB2 – These exist mostly in the immune tissues and are crucial to our immune functions.

CB1 and CB2 Receptor Graphic

3. Enzymes: Break down endocannabinoids after their work has been done.
  • THC and CBD are the two major cannabinoids found in cannabis.
    • THC: Binds to specific receptors that can help reduce pain and increase appetite, but it is a psychoactive substance. Though it has been used for over 5,000 years, many consider the “high” an unwanted side-effect.
    • CBD: Unlike THC, CBD will not get you “high” but research indicates that it can still offer the positive side-effects that come with THC.
  • Homeostasis is the term used to describe balance and stability within our internal environments. It is believed that the ECS plays a major role in maintaining this stability in our bodies.

Endocannabinoid System Graphic

  • When you use cannabis products, they stimulate the receptors and helps to support your body’s efforts to maintain homeostasis. The desired outcomes are typically restful sleep, decreased pain, etc.

According to Dr. Peter Grinspoon of the Harvard Medical School, “Study of the ECS was initially focused on attempts to understand an illegal drug, but new research has since flourished into a far more broad-based exploration into what is an astoundingly intricate and far-reaching system by which our bodies learn, feel, motivate, and keep themselves in balance.”

Fortunately, with all of the research hours spent, we are always gaining new information on the ECS which could lead to the development of many medical advances.

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