The Endocannabinoid System (ECS or eCB) is a recent discovery as far as medical research is considered. It is also one of the most significant medical findings in recent history. Before we begin our history lesson, it’s important to make note of the three (3) parts of the ECS:
1. Endogenous (meaning your body makes them) cannabinoids, or endocannabinoids…these activate the ECS…at this time, there are two that are primarily considered to be in this category: 1. Anandamide (affects CB1 receptors) and 2. 2-AG (affects CB1 and Cb2 receptors…I won’t write out the long name here).
2. ‘Nasty’ enzymes, (FAAH and MAGL) that break down the endocannabinoids so that your ECS doesn’t work too well
3. The cannabinoid receptors that sit on sensory nerve fibers…these are called CB1 and CB2 receptors. For simplicity, we can consider the CB1 receptors to work mostly with the brain, central nervous system, and organs while the CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral nervous system and immune system. They don’t really work in so much as building your immune system as they do in controlling the body’s immune reaction to inflammation and injury.
In 1964, an Israeli scientist by the name of Raphael Mechoulam was performing research on the cannabis plant. He was able to do something that nobody had ever done before and that became his early claim to fame. He was able to isolate two very important ingredients from the plant: the first was THC and the second was CBD. This discovery led the way to the discovery of the ECS in the decades to follow. Needless to say, this was a very significant discovery.
We tend to associate THC as the active ingredient in marijuana that gives us the sensation of ‘feeling high.’ CBD, generally found in industrial hemp plants (not the medical marijuana ones), works quite differently from THC but it still has tremendous in the body, and in a safer fashion. Simply put, CBD does NOT have any psychoactive components. More on this later…
Research got quite robust in this new and exciting area and in the late 1980s, the first cannabinoid receptor was found in the brain. This followed with the discovery of the second cannabinoid receptor in 1993. The first one was called CB1, and it is primarily found on the sensory nerve fibers of the brain, central nervous system, organs, and glands. The second cannabinoid receptor is called CB2, and tends to be found in the peripheral nervous system as a whole, as well as the immune system. In regards to the immune system, we are mostly looking at the interaction of the CB2 receptor activity and its effect on inflammation and pain.
All this is great but certainly we were not born with receptors sensitive only to chemicals found in a particular plant, right?
Well, the answer to that is…exactly! In 1992, Raphael Mechoulam and his group discovered the first endocannabinoid. One in Dr. Mechoulam’s group called it Anandamide, which in ancient Sanskrit means ‘bliss’. Anandamide affects the CB1 receptor. In 1995, Dr. Mechoulam and his growing group of researchers discovered the second endocannabinoid, and this one was called 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol). Unlike Anandamide, 2-AG has an affinity for both CB1 and CB2 receptors. We can consider the endocannabinoids as a type of neurotransmitter, for simplicity’s sake.
So now it appears we have it all down. Our bodies have 2 (likely more) cannabinoid receptors that respond to THC and our natural endocannabinoids…but…we’re not done yet.
We also have two enzymes that do a good job of breaking down the Anandamide and 2-AG and this makes our ECS not work too well. These two enzymes, called FAAH (Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase) and MAGL (Monoacylglycerol Lipase) really work against you. In effect, they take away your body’s ability to feel that lovely ‘bliss’, more-so decreasing your body’s ability to maintain homeostasis. This is bad! They also block your body’s ability to reduce inflammation and pain. This, too, is a bad thing.
These enzymes are normally produced but they are over-produced when we are not as healthy as we should be. Problems such as being overweight, not exercising, poor eating habits, using medications, work stress, medications, poor sleeping patterns, etc.… all place stress on the body and allow for greater amounts of those pesky enzymes and less endocannabinoids. Remember, the enzymes eat away your endocannabinoids. As the ECS fails, so, too, does your health. This means more conditions like anxiety, depression, digestion issues, pain, inflammation, and more.
The ECS is the master homeostatic system of the body. If we have anxiety, it works to level us out. If we suffer from sadness (chronically depression), the ECS works to bring us up. Because we are dealing with up-regulating the neurological system so that we function at a more optimal level, it becomes readily apparent that we need to keep our bodies working as best as we possibly can.
We discussed THC above and its direct effect on the CB1 receptors. This is great for a lot of health problems, but it also gives our brain a jolt and gives us the sensation of feeling ‘high.’ In addition, long-term use is not too great for our brain. Some mechanics of intaking THC are not too healthy either, such as smoking or inhaling it. What if there was another way to help our neurological system better regulate itself without unnecessary side effects? Well, luckily, there is!
Enter Cannabidiol (CBD), that other compound besides THC. It does a lot for us and is far safer. CBD allows the ECS to work by effectively destroying those enzymes (FAAH and MAGL) that are eating away at the endocannabinoids. By doing so, our endocannabinoids (Anandamide and 2-AG) can bind with the CB1 and CB2 receptors on the sensory nerve fibers and get the ECS working the way it should. As a recap, THC directs affects only the CB1 receptor, whereas CBD addresses both CB1 and CB2 receptors by decreasing FAAH and MAGL levels. The ECS truly is responsible for a lot going on, such as dealing with pain, reducing inflammation, your mood (balances out anxiety and also depression), memory, appetite, and much more. A properly functioning ECS is essential for normal life function. We either have a working ECS or we are ill in some way. It’s that simple. There are over 100 cannabinoids and research on them all is ongoing.
Another important point to discuss is that the ECS works as an ‘on-demand’ system. This means that it turns on and off quite readily. Remember that we need to have a healthy lifestyle to have a properly functioning ECS and/or we need some way to revitalize or prime, the ECS. This is what CBD does. We can safely use CBD to help our neurological system function optimally and continue to be able to aid the ECS when it needs to turn on. This is not magic…it’s science, and it works.
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