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How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?

As far back as 2700 BC, cannabis was used for its medicinal properties.  In particular, it was used to treat disorders like insomnia, blood clots, and parasites.

The History cannabis

By the early 20th century, cannabis oil was present in a myriad of medications, from powders to syrups.  These medicines were sold as cures for migraines, coughs, asthma, gout, rheumatism, pain, “female problems,” insomnia, and epilepsy.

But when were cannabinoids discovered and extracted?

At the beginning of the 1940s, THC and CBD were extracted from cannabis plants.  It wasn’t until almost 50 years later that an endocannabinoid was isolated from the endocannabinoid system.

What is the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and how does it work?  How do cannabis plants like hemp and the cannabinoid compounds that grow within it affect this system?

This guide will tell you all about it!

The Discovery of Cannabinoids

The human opiate receptor was discovered in 1973.  However, cannabinoid receptors weren’t considered as soon as you would think.

Some scientists believed that THC only caused changes in artificial cell membranes.  They thought that the cannabinoid THC worked by disturbing cell membranes and then changing cellular behavior.

At St. Louis University in the 1980s, substantial evidence for the presence of cannabinoid receptors was found in Allyn Howlett’s lab.

By 1990, Dr. Matsuda described the functional and structural expression of CB-1, a cannabinoid receptor.  They were trying to understand how THC affected the body and, as a result, discovered a complex network of cannabinoid receptors.

Those receptors are found in both the peripheral and central nervous systems.

After that discovery, the cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB-2) got identified.  It’s found primarily in the immune system, many of the body’s major organs, and the digestive system (gastrointestinal tract).

In revealing these receptors, scientists were only halfway there.  They wanted to know if there were naturally occurring cannabinoids in the body too. Because why would the body produce receptors if there were no natural cannabinoids to bind with them?

The first cannabinoid-like chemical discovered was anandamide.  It gets its name from the Sanskrit word Ananda, which means “bliss.”

It acts on both CB-1 and CB-2 receptors and helps regulate aspects of the central nervous system and immune system.  It’s even deemed the source of the “runner’s high,” which is experienced after a rigorous run or intense exercise.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

Scientists are still in the process of building a complete picture and understanding of what the ECS does.

At this point, however, we do know that it helps to fine-tune many of our vital physiological functions.

It affects almost everything, and it helps modulate the regulation of homeostasis across the entire body.  What this does is ensure that all the systems work together.

Some of the bodily functions it affects are:

  • Appetite
  • Sleep
  • Pain
  • Memory
  • Mood
  • Inflammation
  • Reproduction

But what exactly are endocannabinoids?

Think about neurotransmitters like dopamine serotonin, for example.  They are chemical messengers of the central nervous system.

Endocannabinoids provide a similar function, in that they are the messengers of the ECS (the Endocannabinoid System). They’re produced throughout your body.

The 2 primary endocannabinoids that circulate in throughout your body are anandamide, which we mentioned earlier, and 2-arachidonoylglycerol.

These 2 endocannabinoids are built from lipids, which are fats or oils.  The phytocannabinoids in cannabis are also built from lipids. The lipid structure is the reason why cannabinoids like THC and CBD are fat-soluble, and can thus be extracted and delivered in oil form.

While the anandamide molecule is involved with things like pregnancy, appetite, and memory, the 2-arachidonoylglycerol molecule is equally as essential.  It’s involved with things like protection from seizures, our emotional states, and positive cardiovascular health.

What Role Do Receptors Play?

Think of the endocannabinoids we mentioned as messengers, and the receptors as the receivers. They sit on cell surfaces and wait for certain neurotransmitters to bind to them.

The downstream effect quickly impacts sensation, immunity, mood, and even consciousness, depending on the type of cell the receptor is on.

Those receptors are throughout our bodies, watching over a wide variety of cells and bodily responses.

Different cells have different receptors, which are then sensitive to different kinds of cells.

As we mentioned prior, the 2 central receptors of the endocannabinoid system are CB-1 and CB-2.

CB-1 Receptors

CB-1 receptors are vital for healthy brain function. They’re one of the most prevalent receptors in the entire nervous system.

Depending on where in the brain they’re located, they can be moderators of mood, memory, your perception of pain, or your motor function. These are the receptors responsible for psychoactive properties when THC binds to them.  They also have roles in hormone production, cardiovascular health, and pregnancy.

CB-2 Receptors

CB-2 receptors are usually found on the cells of the immune system.  They help moderate our immune response to pathogens and inflammation.  When you use cannabis products to fight ailments like autoimmune disorders, allergies, and arthritis, your CB-2 receptors are what CBD and other cannabinoids bind to.

How Does CBD work with the ECS?

Almost all cannabinoids can bind to either receptor.  But for hemp-derived phytocannabinoids like CBD, it doesn’t directly trigger the receptor.  It modifies the receptor’s ability to bind cannabinoids.

CBD influences additional types of receptors while also enhancing natural levels or endocannabinoids.

However, the phytocannabinoid CBD doesn’t directly trigger either receptor.  Instead, it modifies the receptors’ ability to bind to cannabinoids.

Many scientists believe CBD from hemp works by preventing those endocannabinoids from being broken down.  Thus, it allows them to have more effect or healing on the body.

If you want to learn more about CBD, here’s the 101, covering all the basics.

There is still a lot to learn about the Endocannabinoid System

Because the discovery of the endocannabinoid system has been relatively recent, scientists are still delving into the complex ways in which it works and the many molecules and compounds that play essential roles in it.

What we do know is that it plays a significant role in managing different aspects of the body, like mood, chronic pain, liver function, and insomnia, amongst many other things.

Do you want to try CBD and discover the difference it can make in your life?  You can shop for our products.

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The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your health care professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act require this notice.

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