Last updated on February 28th, 2021
Today we are going to go into the endocannabinoid system and how it affects us as human beings.
The Endocannabinoid system is a complicated one and we are going to try to break it down as best we can for everyone. As always, if you have any questions about it then please get in touch and we will help you out.
The Endocannabinoid system lives within us all, and in fact within all vertebrates, so that includes your dog, cat and lion. This is why the same cannabinoids from cannabis can be effective for our pets and more and more research is coming out to show that.
Back to us humans, to explain more about the endocannabinoid system I want to first explain homeostasis and what it is.
What is Homeostasis?
Homeostasis is a fundamental concept in biology. The concept is that our body needs to be just in the right conditions to perform our bodily functions in the most effective and efficient way possible.
It states that our body needs to regulate its self to keep going. So this could be the obvious things like if you are too hot or too cold then your body needs to do something about it by things like sweating or shivering. Or, it could be your blood sugar, your body needs to regulate to keep the right amount of sugar in our blood via the use of insulin. But it can also be the little things that some of which we don’t understand yet that need to be regulated to keep all our internal systems working in harmony.
You can think of it like the Goldilocks story. it has to be just right for Goldilocks to eat the porridge if it’s too hot or too cold then it’s not going to work. By keeping Goldilocks happy we are achieving homeostasis.
Why am I telling you this? Well, the endocannabinoid system is a vital molecular system for achieving homeostasis and keeping Goldilocks happy.
About the Endocannabinoid system[ECS]
So now we have talked about what we are trying to achieve, let’s talk about the endocannabinoid system or ECS as we might refer to it from now on.
There are three main components to the ECS:
- Cannabinoid receptors are found on the surface of cells.
- Endocannabinoids are small molecules that activate cannabinoid receptors.
- Metabolic enzymes that break down endocannabinoids after they are used.
We are going to go through what each of these does.
Cannabinoid Receptors Role in the ECS
There are two main cannabinoid receptors in our body:
CB1 is more commonly found in the central nervous system and the brain. It is the one that is responsible for the THC having an effect and getting you ‘high’. So you will find these CB1 receptors mostly around the brain and down the spinal column.
CB2 is more commonly found outside your central nervous system in your peripheral nervous system(which runs around the rest of your body), or your immune system and other locations.
Both receptors are found all over the body in part, there are other receptors but these two were the first found and the most researched of them.
Endocannabinoids role in the ECS
Endocannabinoids are molecules that bind and interact with the receptors talked about above. The difference between these and the cannabinoids from cannabis is that endocannabinoids are produced naturally inside of the body. “Endo” means within, as in, inside the body.
So we produce things to interact with the receptors naturally and on-demand, these endocannabinoids are created and stored like other molecules the body makes, they are made on demand for the body to use.
The two major endocannabinoids we find ourselves producing are anandamide and 2-AG.
Anandamide was discovered by Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam after research back in the 1960s where he discovered THC, a couple of decades later anandamide was discovered when trying to figure out how THC worked and if we produce any naturally. So it was thanks to THC that anandamide was discovered.
Anandamide is a partial or full agonist of CB1 receptors, depending on the tissue and biological response measured. Although it also binds CB2 receptors, it has very low efficacy and may act as an antagonist. This means that it can have an effect on the CB2 receptors but it pretty much goes to work on the CB1 receptors.
2-AG is found almost twice as much as anandamide in the brain. 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), was discovered independently by Mechoulam et al, three years after anandamide in an independent study.
These endocannabinoids exist along with many other, less studied ones like N-arachidonoyldopamine and the other ones in the picture below.
It is all these endocannabinoids that help regulate your bodies processes and help achieve homeostasis. It is shown that these endocannabinoids can have an effect on the following and much more. Endocannabinoids ate basically little messengers that control these processes and tell them when to start and stop which achieves this Goldilocks effect.
- Appetite, digestion, hunger
- Motor control
- Immune function
- Reproduction and fertility
- Pleasure and reward
- Temperature regulation
How are endocannabinoids produced and how can I boost my ECS?
As we mentioned above, these endocannabinoids do not get made and stored for later use, they are created, used and destroyed as needed. So where do they come from?
Endocannabinoids are made from fat-like molecules within cell membranes and are synthesized as needed. These fat-like molecules include omega-3 and omega-6. We get a lot of omega-6 in our diet already but omega-3 is often lacking which can have an effect on the ECS as it struggles to create these endocannabinoids.
Our early human diet had a ratio of around 1:1 omega-3 and omega-6, whereas now it is more like 1:10.
But that’s OK! our friendly hemp plant is back as the hero. Hemp seeds contain a practically perfect balance of essential fatty acids for us to consume as well as many other things that are good for us.
You can also find omega-3 in things like eggs, fish, flax and chia seeds.
The role of Metabolic Enzymes in the ECS
The third piece of the endocannabinoid system pie is metabolic enzymes that quickly destroy endocannabinoids once they are used. The two big enzymes are FAAH, which breaks down anandamide, and MAGL, which breaks down 2-AG.
These enzymes are basically used to stop whatever process is going on created by the endocannabinoids and help regulate the effect of them, thus helping achieve homeostasis.
CBD actually interacts with FAAH and stops it from working as effectively because its job is to breakdown anandamide, the CBD effectively stops the anandamide from being broken down so quickly and can then mean more cells are exposed to it, increasing the effectiveness of what is known as the ‘bliss molecule'(anandamide). So CBD basically increases the number of endocannabinoids in our system which increases the effects but without the psychoactive effects.
So the endocannabinoid system plays a huge role in achieving a perfect balance in many things our body does. It is perhaps why there are so many potential medical benefits of one plant because if it can tap into and enhance the body’s own system, help nurture it to do its job properly then it makes sense that this one miraculous plant can help us in so many ways.
It is without a doubt a very complicated subject and something we are yet to fully understand but I hope this guide will help you understand the fundamentals of what is going on inside us all.
There is still a lot of research to be done as the processes are so complex and there are so many variants but we are beginning to understand the true power of this system and how cannabis can help us in the most natural way possible.
As always, if you have any questions then please do get in touch.