Get to know the endocannabinoid system

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What is the endocannabinoid system?

Discovered in the 1990s, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is one of the body’s largest communication networks. It plays a crucial role in maintaining balance in many physiological processes like appetite, hunger, digestion, sleep, motor control, pain, pleasure, immune function, energy balance, temperature, mood, memory, fertility, pregnancy and reproduction.

The ECS is made up of messengers and receptors, and sends neurotransmitters (messenger and communication molecules) all over the body to check everything is working smoothly and if anything needs to be rebalanced. The body naturally produces neurotransmitters called ‘endocannabinoids’ (like anandamide and 2-AG), which bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, immune system and throughout the body. There are two types of cannabinoid receptors called ‘CB1’ and ‘CB2’. These receptors act as a lock, with cannabinoids acting as the key. CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain, central nervous system and outlying organs and tissues. CB2 receptors are more often found in the immune system, gastrointestinal tract and peripheral nervous system. 

The ECS regulates how quickly neurotransmitters are released – slowing them down or speeding them up when needed, so the body can return to and maintain internal homeostasis. When the body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids or can’t regulate them properly, it falls out of balance. Body systems can then start to malfunction, causing common health problems like chronic pain, inflammation, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, autoimmune disorders and depression.

What can CBD do to the ECS?

CBD is a phytocannabinoid (‘phyto’ meaning plant) that comes from the cannabis plant. It interacts with the ECS, where its main function is to slow down the breakdown of the body’s own endocannabinoids, so it can use more of what it’s naturally producing. CBD works as a modulator to help the body regain homeostasis, so when the right amount of CBD is added to the body, balance begins to return and the body starts to heal itself. 

CBD’s effect on the ECS, as well as its impact on other areas of the human body, suggest it could be useful in treating various medical conditions, with many people finding it can be a viable alternative to other pharmaceuticals.

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