After several decades of research, scientists studying the effects of cannabis made some pretty significant discoveries.
First, they identified the active ingredient in the plant: cannabinoids. Then, they discovered how and why cannabinoids work in the brain – via a new system they named the endocannabinoid system.
Yes, your endocannabinoid system is literally named after pot.
Commonly dubbed the ECS, the endocannabinoid system is a unique communications pathway traveling throughout the brain and body. And its all made possible by cannabinoids, the chemicals our bodies share with cannabis sativa.
What Does “Endocannabinoid” Mean?
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds. They are naturally produced in plants, like cannabis, where they are referred to as “phytocannabinoids.” However, the human body also produces cannabinoids of its own. These are what we call “endocannabinoids.”
Endocannabinoids are simply cannabis-like chemicals that are produced naturally by the body.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The ECS is a complex cell-signaling system that helps the body maintain homeostasis. This means it helps keep the body in balance; regulating a large range of functions and processes, including sleep, appetite, and even reproduction and fertility.
The endocannabinoid system is composted of three parts:
- Receptors that bond with cannabinoids and endocannabinoids
- Enzymes that help break down cannabinoids and endocannabinoids
When something is operating outside of its correct range, your body activates the ECS to help correct it. So, for example, when it’s really hot and your body begins to sweat, that’s your ECS in action cooling you down.
How Does the ECS Work?
The ECS communicates through receptors found within the body. We have at least two known types of cannabinoid receptors:
- CB1, which are found within the central nervous system located in the brain and nerves of the spinal cord
- CB2, which are in the peripheral nervous system, especially in immune and digestive cells
Researchers believe cannabinoid receptors to be among the most plentiful in our central nervous system. When something is off-balance in the body, cannabinoids work as neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, that deliver information from one cell to the next.
However, the effects that result depend on both where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to. For example, endocannabinoids might target CB2 receptors in immune cells to signal that your body’s experiencing inflammation. Others might bind to CB1 receptors in the spinal nerves to relieve pain.
Once the endocannabinoids have done their job and brought things into homeostasis, ECS enzymes come along to break them down and prevent excess endocannabinoids from upsetting the balance they helped create.
What are Functions of the ECS?
Since the ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body, its job is to regulate many of the body’s important functions, including:
- Motor control
- Immune function
- Temperature regulation
Not only is the ECS a natural part of our bodies, but it’s also a crucial one. So, the next time someone mentions cannabis around you, remind them some of the most important cannabinoids are already coursing through your body.