The discovery of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) began in 1988, when the first mammalian cannabinoid receptor was found in the brain of a rat during a research study about THC effects. Scientists then started to map these receptors and find endocannabinoids, which led us to our current understanding of the endocannabinoid system. Scientists named this biological system the ECS because it was discovered while researching the effects of cannabis.
*Scientific evidence has revealed that the ECS is present in all vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, etc.).
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
The key to understanding the Endocannabinoid System is to understand homeostasis. Homeostasis is the body’s ability to maintain a constant internal environment. Keeping stability within the body’s internal environment requires continuous adjustments as conditions change inside and outside our cells. Here are some examples of problems the body might run into when it is struggling to maintain homeostasis: body temperature = fevers, blood glucose = diabetes, stomach pH = reflux, and joint inflammation = arthritis.
The Endocannabinoid System is the network of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors that are found throughout our bodies, and it helps to regulate the body and maintain homeostasis at a cellular level from conception to death.
Endocannabinoids are fat-based molecules produced inside your body that act as retrograde neurotransmitters by binding to cannabinoid receptors(like a lock and key). The two main endocannabinoids identified by scientists are anandamide (AEA) and 2-archidonoylgylercol (2-AG).
Cannabinoid Receptors reside on the surface of cells and “observe” the conditions outside of the cell. They transmit information about changing conditions to the inside of the cell. The most abundant cannabinoid receptors discovered are called CB1 and CB2. Although both types of receptors can be found all throughout the body, CB1 receptors are more highly concentrated in the brain and nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors are more common in the immune system and organs.
As endocannabinoids bind with cannabinoid receptors, they spur the body’s cells to take action against any changes to the cell’s environment. These reactions caused inside the cell regulate a variety of physiological and cognitive processes. Some of these processes include effects on appetite, metabolism, inflammation, pain sensation, mood, memory, immune function, sleep, and more.
What are Phytocannabinoids?
Phytocannabinoids are the compounds, such as THC and CBD, that are produced inside the cannabis plant. When consumed in the proper manner, these compounds mimic the effect of the body’s self-made endocannabinoids by binding to the cannabinoid receptors and causing the same reactions within the body.
CBD, specifically, is also interesting because it can affect the overall levels of naturally-produced endocannabinoids in the brain. One way it does this is by inhibiting an enzyme in the human body (FAAH Enzyme) which is responsible for breaking down the endocannabinoid anandamide. This means that CBD is able to cause reactions in your brain, which results in the brain maintaining a higher level of anandamide. In other medical research, inhibiting the FAAH enzyme has been proven to be a useful strategy for treating anxiety disorders, and some of CBD’s anti-anxiety properties probably come from its ability to inhibit this enzyme, and, therefore, enable your body to increase its natural endocannabinoid levels.