Modified 6/24/2021 

How CBD Enhances the Endocannabinoid System

What is the endocannabinoid system? How does cannabidiol (CBD) help the endocannabinoid system? Both these questions are common particularly since both the endocannabinoid system and CBD, including how they work together, are relatively new to scientists, doctors and the public at large. Scientists only discovered the endocannabinoid system in the early 1990s and it is not yet fully understood. We do know that it is a complex cell-signaling system in our body and in the bodies of all vertebrates. We also know that the endocannabinoid system is considered to be very important to our health and general wellbeing because it regulates the balance of our mind and body.

To understand how cannabidiol (CBD) may enhance our endocannabinoid system, let’s first take a general look at this system itself and how it functions.

What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?

Basically, our endocannabinoid system helps to control the regulation of balance across all our major body functions to ensure they work together in harmony. The endocannabinoid system is the “master regulator” of mind and body functions. It is linked to various functions such as appetite, digestion, pain, learning, memory, mood, anxiety, sleep, metabolism, immune function, temperature regulation, motivation, pleasure and reward, motor control, and skin and nerve function. It helps regulate our body through neurotransmitters located in the endocannabinoid systems. Basically speaking, these neurotransmitters send out signals to functions of the body that are imbalanced to help balance them out and maintain good health and general wellbeing.

Building Blocks of the Endocannabinoid System

There are three main components of the endocannabinoid system work together to keep you healthy. These are cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids and enzymes.

CANNABINOID RECEPTORS

Cannabinoid receptors sit on the cell surfaces throughout your body waiting for neurotransmitters to bind to them. You can think of receptors being messengers that send vital information to cells, organs and the nervous system. Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor CB1 or CB2 to signal a need to take action to the endocannabinoid system.

CB1 receptors can be found in greater numbers in the brain. CB1 receptors are also found in the central nervous system and to a lesser extent in other tissues. These receptors will direct things like emotional behavior, memory and learning, and response to stress.

CB2 receptors are found in greater numbers in the gastrointestinal tract, on immune cells and the nerves and pathways around the body (the peripheral nervous system). These receptors control things like inflammation and how you feel pain.

All in all, cannabinoid receptors are vital to keeping you healthy because they route information to your cells, organs and nervous system in order to keep the different parts of your body balanced. In fact, the endocannabinoid system may have more cellular receptors than any other system within the body.

Human CBD Receptor Chart
 

ENDOCANNABINOIDS

Endocannabinoids are endogenous lipid-based neurotransmitters found throughout your body. Endocannabinoids are produced naturally by cells in the human body and activate cannabinoid receptors. Experts have identified two key endocannabinoids that help keep our internal body functions run smoothly.

The first endocannabinoid is Anandamide (“AEA”) and is generally referred to as the “bliss molecule.” Its name comes from the Sanskrit word that means “internal bliss.” AEA is an endocannabinoid that is primarily associated with creating a feeling of happiness.  It is also thought to be a very important cannabinoid to manipulate for controlling pain stimuli. Anandamide is synthesized in parts of the brain involved with managing memory, motivation, higher thought processes, and movement control, to name just a few.

The second endocannabinoid is 2-Arachidonoyl glycerol (“2-AG”) and it said to be the most prevalent endocannabinoid in the body. 2-AG is a signaling lipid located in the central nervous system and is a key regulator of neurotransmitter release. Studies suggest the 2-AG endocannabinoid plays a large role in the suppression of inflammation through immune suppression. Further, 2-AG is said to function as a psychoactive endocannabinoid when it binds to the CB1 receptor within the brain cells and is involved with regulating functions including, for example, emotion, cognition, pain perception, and energy.

Generally, the resulting effect of endocannabinoids binding a receptor depends on which endocannabinoid binds to which receptor. For example, endocannabinoids might target a CB1 receptor in a spinal nerve to relieve nerve pain. Or, endocannabinoids might bind to a CB2 receptor in the immune cells to signal that your body is experiencing inflammation.

ENZYMES

Your body has a whole system of molecules that control when and where endocannabinoids are produced and how quickly they are broken down. Those molecules are enzymes. Enzymes help break down and metabolize endocannabinoids once they have performed their function.

There are two main enzymes responsible for metabolizing endocannabinoids. The first is fatty acid amide hydrolase which breaks down the AEA endocannabinoid once it has fulfilled its function. The second is monoacylglycerol acid lipase which breaks down the 2-AG endocannabinoid once it has fulfilled its function.

Both the AEA and 2-AG endocannabinoids are produced on demand (i.e., when needed) so, enzymes essentially help to facilitate their purpose and dispose of them once they have completed their purpose.

How CBD Supports the Endocannabinoid System

You might be wondering that if the endocannabinoid system is so efficient in keeping our bodies in check, why do people even need CBD? We’ll use an analogy to help put this into context. When you are not eating the right foods or are not getting the proper nutrients from your diet, you can take vitamins or herbal extracts to help supplement your diet to avoid having a nutrient deficiency. The same goes for our endocannabinoid system. There are many reasons why your body may not naturally respond the way it needs to, such as chronic inflammation, illness and injury. Also, the body may naturally produce low endocannabinoids that results in a deficiency.

Some experts propose that we can suffer from a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency which may contribute to developing certain medical conditions, such as fibromyalgia, migraines and irritable bowel syndrome, among others. The theory of a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency suggests that when the body fails to produce enough endocannabinoids or enough receptors for the endocannabinoid system to properly function, then other systems will be improperly regulated and imbalanced. When a body system is imbalanced, the body may become susceptible to illnesses.

In its own right cannabidiol is an endocannabinoid modulator. In other words, when given chronically it actually increases the gain of system, which is, at its core, a homeostasis regulator. To explain that, homeostasis is a state of balance.

— Dr. Ethan Russo

Although experts are not completely sure how CBD chemically works in the body, they believe that CBD slightly modifies the message to help prolong the breakdown of endocannabinoids in order to allow them to have a greater effect on the body. For example, if you feel stress CBD may influence the receptor to signal the release of more serotonin to relieve your stress and produce a calming effect.

⇒ Recommended: CBD for Stress and Relaxation

In addition to affecting the metabolization of the endocannabinoids, CBD may also influence other receptors outside the endocannabinoid system to  help with different body functions. In essence, a cannabinoid like CBD can supplement what your body is not naturally producing to help promote balance of your endocannabinoid system and, in turn, support the proper functioning of other systems and functions in the body.

Final Thoughts

Through an intricate process, the endocannabinoid system keeps our body in balance and functioning at optimal levels. For this reason, it’s important to support our endocannabinoid system so it can properly function and maintain a state of balance. Using CBD safely, along with a healthy diet and exercise regimen, may help you live a happier, healthier and balanced lifestyle.

The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment, and may not and should not be used for such purposes. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare expert with any questions you may have regarding a medical question or condition.

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