The endocannabinoid system (“eCS”) is a complex cell-signaling system within the human body and the bodies of all vertebrates. The eCS was only discovered by scientists in the early 1990s and, as such, is yet to be fully understood. However, we do know it consists of neurotransmitters that send signals to other systems within the body, including the central nervous system, that are critical to our wellbeing.
To understand how CBD, short for cannabidiol, may enhance our eCS, let’s first take a look at the eCS itself and how it generally functions.
What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?
Basically, the eCS helps to control the regulation of balance across all your major body systems, ensuring that these systems work together in harmony. Essentially, the eCS is the “master regulator” in your body. It is linked to various functions in the body such as appetite, digestion, pain, learning, memory, mood, stress, sleep, metabolism, immune function, temperature regulation, motivation, pleasure and reward, motor control, and skin and nerve function.
There are three main components of the eCS that work together to keep you healthy: Cannabinoid Receptors, Endocannabinoids and Enzymes.
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 eCS.
CB1 receptors can be found in greater numbers in the brain. 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 eCS may have more cellular receptors in the body than any other system.
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 to keep our internal body functions running smoothly.
The first is Anandamide also called N-arachidonoylethanolamine (“AEA”). Anandamide is widely referred to as a “bliss” molecule, with its name taken from the Sanskrit word meaning “internal bliss.” AEA is an endocannabinoid that is primarily associated with creating a feeling of happiness. 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 is 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (“2-AG”), a signaling lipid located in the central nervous system and a key regulator of neurotransmitter release. Studies suggest that the 2-AG endocannabinoid activates the CB1 receptor and is involved in the regulation of various functions such as emotion, cognition, energy balance, pain sensation and neuroinflammation.
Generally, the resulting effect of endocannabinoids binding to a receptor depends on which endocannabinoid binds to which receptor. For example, endocannabinoids might target a CB1 receptor in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Or, endocannabinoids might bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body is experiencing inflammation.
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 the endocannabinoids. The first is fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down the AEA endocannabinoid upon it fulfilling its function. The second is monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which breaks down the 2-AG endocannabinoid upon it completing its function.
As both AEA and 2-AG are produced on demand (i.e., when needed), enzymes essentially help to facilitate their purpose and dispose of them once they’ve fulfilled their function.
How CBD Supports the Endocannabinoid System
You might be wondering, since the eCS is so efficient in keeping our bodies in check, why do people use CBD?
Let’s use an analogy to help put this in 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 your eCS. There are many reasons why your body may not naturally respond the way it needs to such as chronic inflammation, illness and/or injury. It is also possible for your body to naturally have low endocannabinoids in your system.
Some experts propose that we can suffer from a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency that may contribute to developing certain medical conditions such as fibromyalgia, migraines and irritable bowel syndrome, among others. The theory of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency suggests that when the body fails to produce enough endocannabinoids or enough receptors for the eCS to function properly, other systems in our body are not properly regulated and the body becomes imbalanced, thereby making it susceptible to illnesses.
Although experts are not completely sure how CBD works chemically in the body, they believe that instead of binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, CBD slightly modifies the message to help prolong the breakdown of the endocannabinoids to allow them to have a greater effect on the body.
For example, if you are having stress, CBD influences the receptor to signal the release of more serotonin to relieve the stress and produce a calming effect. In addition to affecting the metabolization of the endocannabinoids, CBD also influences other receptors outside the eCS that help with different bodily functions.
In essence, a cannabinoid like CBD can supplement what your body is not producing naturally to promote balance of your endocannabinoid system and, in turn, support the proper functioning of other bodily systems.
Through an intricate process, the endocannabinoid system keeps your body in balance and functioning at optimal levels. For this reason, it’s important to support your eCS so it can function properly and help other bodily systems function properly as well. Using CBD safely, along with a healthy diet and exercise regimen, may help you live a happier, healthier and balanced lifestyle.
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