CBD and the endocannabinoid system

What is the endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short, works to keep the human body in balance. You may have heard of homeostasis. This is the body’s system to regulate its internal environment, hormones, body temperature, water balance, etc. For example, when we are too hot, our body produces sweat, this cools us down, thus regulating our body temperature.

The endocannabinoid system works to maintain homeostasis by utilising cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors found throughout the immune system and central and peripheral nervous systems. The ECS regulates processes such as pain, mood, appetite, and memory.

Everyone produces cannabinoids, it is involuntary. It does not matter whether you have already consumed CBD or THC or other active ingredients in a cannabis plant.

These endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids (‘endo’ means ‘from within’) tap into what has been termed the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which plays an essential role in the body’s ability to interact with the cannabis plant, and, in turn, the effectiveness of cannabis and cannabinoids as medicines.

CBD and the endocannabinoid system

CBD and the endocannabinoid system... in a nutshell

  • The ECS exists and is active in your body even if you don’t use cannabis.
  • The ECS plays an important role in many different processes in the body (e.g. appetite, sleep, memory, reproduction and fertility, stress).
  • The ECS system works with the cannabinoids your body is already producing, but also with exogenous substances such as CBD and THC.
  • CBD docks onto ECS receptors and inhibits certain enzymes or elicits certain modes of action

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.

Does everyone have an endocannabinoid system?

Everyone has an endocannabinoid system, so everyone could potentially benefit from cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD).

This is true not only of the humans. Endocannabinoid systems are also widespread in the animal world, so there is actually no vertebrate without an ECS.

So CBD can also have a positive effect on your pet!


How does the endocannabinoid system work?

So far, only two ECS receptors are known:

  1. The CB1 receptor, which is localised primarily in the brain (hippocampus, cerebellum) and also in the intestine.
  2. 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:

  • Appetite
  • Digestion
  • Immune function
  • Stress
  • Inflammation
  • Sleep-wake rhythm
  • Reproduction / fertility
  • Pain
  • Memories
  • Mood
  • 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.

How does CBD work in the endocannabinoid system?

CBD is actually considered to be a 'phytocannabinoid' which means that it is a cannabinoid that comes from a plant (cannabis / hemp). The interaction between CBD and the endocannabinoid system is proven.

In contrast to the antagonist THC, CBD is not a "key" of a receptor. Rather , the cannabidiol adheres to the "docking points" and serves as an inhibitor for the enzyme FAAH. As a result, the breakdown of anandamide, for example, is slowed down or prevented, as a result of which the substance remains in the brain. This should prevent depression or anxiety and increase satisfaction and motivation.

In addition, cannabidiol is said to have an effect on a physiological level, with the help of which serious diseases such as tumours, epilepsy or the like can be combated. Performed studies also showed improvements in sleep in Parkinson sufferers by taking CBD.

Although CBD does not necessarily have a direct impact on the system, it does develop its therapeutic benefits through indirect actions that ultimately influence the ECS.

Many animals also have an ECS, there is actually no vertebrate without an ECS. So CBD could help your pets too!

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:

  • Migraines
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • 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.

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