The Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a biological system of neurotransmitters and receptors that are woven throughout the central nervous system. This molecular signaling network helps the body regulate the function of other systems, including immune function, appetite, and sleep patterns. Think of it as the body’s ability to counterbalance; the ECS responds to internal and external changes to help maintain homeostasis, the state of steady and optimal functioning.
The ECS produces its own neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids that bind to both cells and neurons, whose production are associated with exercise and states of wellbeing. The goal of the ECS seems to be maintaining a stable environment inside the body to offset the constant fluctuations of whatever outside environment we find ourselves in. It’s a function of the very concept of “health” itself.
The discovery that the cannabinoid receptors of the ECS are also receptive to naturally occurring cannabinoids in foods is nothing less than revolutionary. Cannabis (hemp and marijuana), echinacea, ginseng, broccoli, carrots, and black pepper are just a few of the common plants that contain cannabinoids. This means we can harness these food-based cannabinoids for improved health. Amazingly, the ECS was only was only discovered about 30 years ago. Science is just at the threshold of learning how to fine-tune physical and emotional health with plant-based cannabinoids.
Cannabinoid receptors are present in the central nervous system (CNS), the peripheral nervous system (PNS), the immune system, and various organs. Cannabinoids essentially mimic endocannabinoids. They take effect and are metabolized quickly, making them potentially very useful dietary supplements and/or medicines for stimulating the ECS. Because the ECS is so new and references cannabis, the acceptance of its actual function within the body can be somewhat controversial. Most people, even doctors, face a steep learning curve.
The Basic Breakdown
There are two main receptors in the ECS, CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are located primarily within brain cells, including the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus. CB2 receptors are found mostly in the CNS, PNS, immune system, and white blood cells. There is a cascade of enzymes, proteins, and other molecules involved, the properties and effects of which are still being studied.
But cannabidiol (CBD) is relevant because it acts like a key to CB1 and CB2 receptors. Research indicates that CBD facilitates how other endocannabinoids and cannabinoids affect the body. Molecular pharmacologists are targeting these receptors for the treatment or management of a range of painful conditions, including acute pain, chronic inflammatory pain, and neuropathic pain.
The punchline is that our bodies are strangely primed to finetuning by cannabinoids. This has groundbreaking implications for human health. We metabolize these molecular compounds quickly and efficiently, basically like food. In this light, it’s no stretch to say that hemp-derived CBD is medicinal food.
Our ECS is like a set of dials waiting to be adjusted for maximum performance. With a little self-study and experimentation, we can upregulate our deficiencies and find a more balanced state of physical and emotional wellbeing with modest use of hemp-derived CBD.