What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS for short) is a very complex regulatory system of the body. The ECS involves three main components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
That network of receptors occur in various places in the body. For example, it can be found in the central nervous system or as part of the immune system.
Because of this link, some researchers believe that the endocannabinoid system can play an important role in physiological and pathological processes. It is also involved in cell communication and cell death.
Endocannabinoids, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules made by your body. They’re similar to cannabinoids, but they’re produced by your body.
So far, two key endocannabinoids have been identified:
- anandamide (AEA)
- 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)
Although the ECS is named after the internal system managing endocannabinoids, it can also interact with exogenous cannabinoids that can be found in the cannabis plant, such as (acronym alert!) CBD, THC, CBN or CBG.
Because of its special way of working and its impact on various body processes, researchers are increasingly speculating that the endocannabinoid system could (also in connection with, for example, CBD) pave the way for new therapeutic routes. There is hope above all for autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson's.
How does the endocannabinoid system work?
So far, only two ECS receptors are known:
- The CB1 receptor, which is localised primarily in the brain (hippocampus, cerebellum) and also in the intestine.
- CB2 receptors, which in contract are found primarily in the immune system as well as in osteoblasts and osteoclasts.
Despite the fact that so far only two receptors of the system are known, the existence of others is suspected.
These receptors interact with cannabinoids (endogenous and exogenous). The receptors could be thought of as a docking station or a lock, with the cannabinoids such as CBD or THC being the respective keys. This collaboration sends signals that ultimately trigger certain effects in the body.
For example, it has already been found that the correct activation of the CB1 receptors can promote an antidepressant effect.
Also the results of studies show that CB1 receptors may play a role in erasing negative memories, and therefore the endocannabinoid system may play an important role in anxiety disorders.
With the help of these receptors, the ECS can also regulate the following:
- Immune function
- Sleep-wake rhythm
- Reproduction / fertility
- Anxiety / panic attacks
But, as with most things in nature and the human body, it is also important that the system of different receptors remains in balance. This is because a surplus, just like a deficiency, can lead to disturbances and, in the worst case, to illnesses.
If one consumes THC, which interacts especially with the CB1 receptors, a worst case scenario would be that it could lead to psychosis. However, according to a WHO report, CBD does not cause any health complaints.
What happens if there is a deficiency in the endocannabinoid system?
It is important that there is an appropriate balance of cannabinoids in the body's system. Too much inhibition of the CB1 receptors could lead to an increased risk of depression or psychosis.
It is also suspected that a disorder in the endocannabinoid system, for example in the form of a deficiency, can be the cause of a wide variety of clinical issues, such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Travel sickness
Multiple sclerosis patients were found to all have significant deficiencies in anandamide and 2-AG.
This could suggest a link between the endocannabinoid system and the disease. Animal experiments have also shown that the ECS can play a role in Multiple Sclerosis.
As with most areas of CBD, there is still a long way to go in terms of utilising CBD to its full potential. However, what we have learned and proven so far is extremely promising.