What is the endocannabinoid system, or ECS? Thanks to a number of recent scientific studies, we are beginning to gain a deeper understanding of what it does and how important it is. Many researchers believe the ECS is one of the most vital physiological systems in the body.
Why is it so important? One of the main functions of the ECS is maintaining homeostasis throughout the whole of the human body. Before we try to understand the ECS we must first examine what homeostasis is and what makes it so vital to our health.
What Is Homeostasis?
Homeostasis occurs when the body maintains a balanced, well-functioning internal state regardless of external conditions. All living things, including people, animals and plants, rely on homeostasis to sustain a healthy existence.
The word “homeostasis” is derived from Greek and means “similar”(homoios) and “standing still”(stasis), loosely translated to “remaining the same.”
When you think of homeostasis, think of balance or stability within a cell, a group of cells, or the whole body. This stability is important throughout the whole body and includes our nervous, immune, digestive, respiratory, reproductive and urinary systems.
Why Is Homeostasis Important?
The body is a complicated, interconnected network of different systems. Each separate system controls and manages its own functions but is also connected with, and dependent on, other systems.
If one system breaks down and homeostasis is disrupted, another system can be impacted and lose its own ability to function at a level of homeostasis. This ultimately leads to health problems throughout the whole body.
A good example of this is the nervous system, for example. The nervous system is connected through passageways to all of the other parts of the body. This network consists of the central nervous system, which is compromised of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system which includes the nerves outside the brain and the spinal cord that connects to limbs and organs. If there is homeostasis within the nervous system, this creates a better chance for homeostasis within all of the other related systems.
The endocrine system, which is comprised of the glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream, is also a good example of the importance of homeostasis. The secreted hormones help the body with energy production, muscle metabolism, bone growth and blood pressure so maintaining balance within the endocrine system is key to all of these functions.
So you see, the body’s ability to reach and maintain homeostasis is one of the secrets of overall health. And a disruption in this balance doesn’t just lead to small, temporary illnesses but also can lead to more serious conditions such as cancer and diabetes.
Understanding the ECS and Homeostasis
The ECS is commonly referred to as the “master regulator” within the body. It plays a huge part in the regulation of numerous bodily processes.
Research shows the the endocannabinoid system can influence the following:
- Immune response
- Motor control
- Bone health
- Muscle development
- Reproductive function
- Cardiovascular function
- Skin health
- Nerve function
Because endocannabinoid receptors are found nearly everywhere in the body, the ECS acts to maintain the delicate balance of all of these bodily processes when they interact. When one or more are thrown out of balance, the ECS can help bring the body back to a state of homeostasis.
There are three main components of the ECS—endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes.
First off, don’t confuse “endocannabinoids” and”cannabinoids”. Endocannabinoids are made naturally by the body. Cannabinoids, like CBD and THC, are chemically very similar to the naturally occurring endocannabinoids but are the product of the cannabis plant.
For our purposes here, there are two endocannabinoids you should be familiar with – anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These endocannabinoids are chemically very similar to CBD and THC, but they’re naturally created by the body.
Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that is incredibly similar in structure to THC and is named after the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss” or “happiness.” Anandamide has been referred to as the “bliss molecule” for the its ability to create a state of euphoria.
Anandamide contains both anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory properties because it can increase a process called neurogenesis, creating new neurons in the brain. It positively influences several bodily functions including memory, motivation, pain, regulation of body temperature, appetite, and fertility.
2-AG, the most abundant endocannabinoid found in the body, is one of a group of molecules derived from arachidonic acid.
2-AG, which is similar in many ways to anandamide, plays an important role in pain management, appetite regulation, and immune system function. It is also a key factor in evening out anxiety, depression, and addictive behaviors. In addition, studies have shown that 2-AG slows the invasion and multiplication of certain types of cancer cells.
Cannabinoid Receptors and Homeostasis
Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout the entire body and are known as either CB1 or CB2 receptors. They have two main functions: governing the effects of the body’s natural endocannabinoids AEA and 2-AG and regulating the effects of cannabis.
CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and spinal cord with certain areas of the brain possessing an abundance of CB1 receptors. There is a particularly high density in the hippocampus and amygdala, which play an important role in emotional regulation and memory. CB1 receptors are also found in the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, uterus, and ovaries.
CB1 receptors affect the following functions:
- motor movements
- pain perception
- regulation of sleep
This list illustrates the many ways these receptors contribute to quality of life.
CB2 receptors are primarily found throughout the peripheral nervous system, as opposed to the central nervous system. There is a high concentration found in the immune system, spleen, and gastrointestinal tract. There are a very small number of CB2 receptors present in the brain.
Because CB2 receptors play an important role in monitoring and regulating dopamine activity in the brain, they greatly influence reward and addiction behaviors. They also impact immune functions such as inflammation and pain management.
The two enzymes found in the ECS are fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol acid lipase (MGL). These enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids after they’ve completed their function.
Homeostasis and the ECS
The Endocannabinoid System works to maintain homeostasis through a complicated balancing act between the naturally occurring endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. When imbalance is discovered, the body releases endocannabinoids to target specific cannabinoid receptors. This creates a chemical response that helps return balance to the system that sounded the alarm. Again, think “pain” or “anxiety”.
You naturally create the endocannabinoids that help your body maintain homeostasis, but sometimes, for any number of reasons, there aren’t enough endocannabinoids created naturally within the body for the ECS to function efficiently. This is referred to as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency, which is believed to be connected with a number of health problems.
Cannabinoids and ECS Function
As we mentioned previously, the body’s endocannabinoids are very similar to cannabinoids like CBD. Researchers believe that supplementing with such cannabinoids can help add to the body’s natural endocannabinoids and ultimately help promote a state of homeostasis within the ECS. This could explain why countless users have reported a considerable supply of health benefits when adding cannabinoids like CBD (or THC for full-spectrum users) to their daily routines.
How exactly do these cannabinoids work within the ECS to contribute to a state of homeostasis? CBD and THC interact with cannabinoid receptors differently.
THC and the ECS
THC is the psychoactive element found in the cannabis plant and provides the feeling of “high” associated with marijuana use. When it enters the body THC interacts with your ECS by binding to receptors, just like endocannabinoids and is particularly powerful because it can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
This allows it to have a variety of effects on your body and mind, some more desirable than others. While THC may help to reduce pain and stimulate your appetite it can also cause paranoia and anxiety.
Although scientists are currently studying ways to produce synthetic THC cannabinoids that interact with the ECS in only beneficial ways, Purelix Wellness has chosen to offer CBD products that are THC-free so the possible harmful effects of THC aren’t an issue. Our products offer all of the benefits of the cannabinoids with no chance of undesirable side effects.
The human body is a wondrous and complex thing so understanding how the ECS works and how CBD can help it function can be confusing. In reality, though, the concept is really quite simple. Using the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant can help promote homeostasis and keep the ever-important ECS functioning at optimal levels. The more balanced the body, the better the overall health! How has CBD helped your health?