The Endocannabinoid System (ECS): What Is It and How Does It Work?

Endocannabinoid System and Its Functions

Optimal functioning means that there is some sort of balance in the body. While it’s possible to experience pain, mood swings, sleep problems, and even digestive issues, the body is usually trying to work internally to restore stability. Well, all these are usually facilitated by the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that’s responsible for promoting internal stability in the body via homeostasis. But what exactly is the ECS and how does it work?

What is The ECS?

The ECS is a complex cell-signaling system that consists of endocannabinoids, enzymes, and receptors. Its signaling molecules are responsible for regulating a wide range of processes in the body. This includes pain, immunity, memory, and mood among others. the ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis.

How The ECS Works

There are three main components found in the ECS that promote its functions. They include endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.

The Endocannabinoids

They are also known as endogenous cannabinoids. These are simply molecules that make up the body. Endocannabinoids are quite similar to cannabinoids, except that they are naturally produced by the body. Researchers have identified two types of endocannabinoids so far and they include:

  • 2-arachidonolylglyerol (2-AG)
  • Anandamide (AEA)

These two endocannabinoids are responsible for promoting the efficient running of internal functions. However, the body only produces them as they are needed. As a result, it’s not possible to easily determine the typical levels of endocannabinoids in the body.

Receptors

They are also known as endocannabinoid receptors and are found throughout the body. Normally, endocannabinoids and receptors work together as the former binds to the latter to signal the ECS to take the necessary type of action.

Just like endocannabinoids, the body has two main types of receptors and they include:

  • CB1 receptors: They are found mainly in the central nervous system
  • CB2 receptors: They are mainly found in the peripheral nervous system, particularly in the immune cells.

Note: Endocannabinoids in the body can either bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors. But the type of effect produced depends on the endocannabinoid-receptor pairing.

If, for instance, the endocannabinoids bind to the CB1 receptors in the spinal nerve, this binding may help to relieve pain. On the other hand, if the binding happens with CB2 receptors in the immune cells, then this might be effective in managing the symptoms of inflammation, especially when dealing with autoimmune disorders.

Endocannabinoid System and Its Functions

Enzymes

Lastly, the ECS also has enzymes that are critical in the breakdown of the endocannabinoids. It’s worth noting that endocannabinoids must be broken down, once they have completed their functions. The ECS has two types of enzymes that are responsible for this task and they include:

  • Monoacylglycerol act lipase: It is responsible for breaking down 2-AG
  • Fatty acid amide hydrolase: Its responsible for breaking down AEA

Functions of the ECS

The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating balance in the body i.e., promoting homeostasis. Some of the processes that this system helps to manage and regulate include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Inflammation and immune system responses
  • Metabolism
  • Appetite and digestion
  • Learning and memory
  • Mood and sleep
  • Motor control
  • Liver function
  • Stress control
  • Bone growth and remodeling
  • Cardiovascular system function
  • Muscle formation
  • Skin and nerve function
  • Reproductive system function

Looking at the above functions, it’s clear that this system is critical for our overall wellness. This is because it works to effectively promote the stability of the internal environment.

Endocannabinoid Deficiency

There are experts who believe in the theory of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency. According to this theory, low levels of endocannabinoids in the body can directly contribute to the development of certain medical conditions. According to research studies, endocannabinoid deficiency is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

Symptoms of Endocannabinoid Deficiency

  • Reduced pain threshold
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heavy or labored breathing due to dilated lungs
  • Improper regulation of mood, sleep, and digestive process

This deficiency can play a role in triggering the development of conditions such as:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Migraine
  • Fibromyalgia

It should be noted that these conditions are sometimes referred to as functional conditions or central sensitivity syndromes. This is because they tend to be resistant to most types of treatments. That’s why sometimes researchers may recommend the use of alternative medications such as cannabis-based treatments.

Functional conditions tend to affect more than one system. this makes sense because ECS is found all over the body. So, developing one of these conditions may consequentially end up affecting the others. take a look at this, fibromyalgia usually involves the use of the central and peripheral nervous systems. Besides that, it also involves the hormonal, digestive, and immune systems. So, in case you end up with fibromyalgia, you risk experiencing a series of complications that may be difficult to treat.

How CBD Interacts with ECS

As stated above, sometimes researchers recommend the use of cannabis products to treat functional conditions. Well, this is because cannabis compounds can interact with the ECS to promote wellness. One of the popular cannabis compounds with great health benefits is CBD. So, how does this cannabinoid interact with the ECS?

For starters, CBD is nonpsychoactive and it doesn’t alter the way the mind functions. But until now, it’s not clearly known how CBD interacts with the ECS. What is clear is that it doesn’t bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors as some of the research studies indicate.

However, preliminary reports indicate that it works by preventing the breakdown of endocannabinoids in the body. This means that CBD gives them more time to have more positive effects on the body. While the way CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system is still something debatable, one thing that’s clear is that it promotes its functions optimally. That’s why taking it helps to treat and manage conditions such as pain, inflammation, epilepsy, and nausea among others.

How Does THC Interact with ECS?

This is another popular cannabis compound that also interacts with the ECS. Unlike CBD, THC is psychoactive. It alters the way the mind functions by producing a euphoric high. Once this cannabis compound gets into your body, it interacts with the ECS by binding to the receptors. This makes it a powerful compound since it binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. As a result, THC is capable of producing a wide range of effects on the body and mind. For instance, some of its desirable effects include reducing pain and stimulating appetite. However, the “high” feeling can also trigger the feeling of paranoia and anxiety in some instances.

The Bottom Line

There is no doubt that the ECS is an important component of our wellness. It contributes to homeostasis and this means that its critical for the stability of the internal environment. This means that if you experience pain, fever, or mood swings, then this system will try and bring back the body to normal balance.

However, environmental and genetic factors can lead to endocannabinoid deficiency. This can lead to a destabilized system with a wide range of complications. However, leading a healthy lifestyle can help to ensure that you have a healthy endocannabinoid system.

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