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The Endocannabinoid System

Updated: Jul 14, 2022

In science class, we learned that the major organ systems in the human body are the: circulatory, respiratory, urinary, reproductive, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, lymphatic, and digestive systems.

Did you know that there is also the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)? While it is less well-known than the other major organ systems in the body, the ECS is deeply involved in establishing and maintaining human health in various ways.

The ECS was first discovered in the 1990s by Dr. L.A. Matsuda. Dr. Matsuda was the first to describe the structure and functional expression of the cannabinoid receptor, CB-1. At the time, scientists were trying to understand how THC—the primary psychoactive substance in marijuana—affected the body. What they discovered was a remarkably complex network of cannabinoid receptors (CBr) expressed in cells of both the central and peripheral nervous systems.

The ECS refers to a collection of cell receptors and corresponding molecules located throughout the body - in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. Though it performs different tasks in each tissue, its goal is always keeping the body at an optimal balance. Due to its ability to maintain homeostasis within the body, the ECS is perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.

There are two primary cell receptors that make up the ECS, Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CB1) and Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2), which are locks. CB1 receptors are abundant in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors are more often found on immune cells, in the gastrointestinal tract, and in the peripheral nervous system.

Cannabinoid receptors are found in so many places in the body, they play a significant role in regulating many bodily functions like sleep, appetite, digestion, hunger, mode, motor control, immune function, reproduction and fertility, pleasure, and reward, pain, memory, and temperature regulation.

Endocannabinoids are the key chemicals that fit with the CB1 and CB2 receptors that tell your body when to get these processes started and when it's time to stop. For example, when you’re feeling exhausted and can’t keep your eyes open, your ECS reminds you it’s time for sleep. When this system is disrupted, you may experience dysfunction in some or all of the bodily processes.

Even though we talk a lot about cannabinoid receptors, enzymes play a big role in ECS function as well. Enzymes essentially go around and clean up after the ECS, breaking down any leftover cannabinoids that haven’t found a receptor to bind with.

One endocannabinoid that gets a lot of buzz is called anandamide (also known as the Bliss Molecule), a neurotransmitter that affects the immune system, eating and sleeping patterns, and pain relief. Anandamide works on both CB1 and CB2 receptors, and elevated levels of anandamide are believed to ease anxiety and nervous thought patterns. Unfortunately, there is an enzyme called FAAH that breaks down any excess anandamide in your system.

Full-spectrum CBD oil stops enzyme FAAH from breaking down all of the anandamide and therefore makes more of it available for use by your cells. This is why CBD oil is a natural mood-lifter without psychoactive effects.

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