Part 1: The Endocannabinoid System

CBD seems to be the answer for everything these days, from Anxiety to fatigue, digestive problems to sleep disorders. But how can CBD provide a solution for such a plethora of symptoms? The answer is simple, and at the same time very complex. It is thanks to our Endocannabinoid System. This system is part of the mammalian nervous system, and so helps to regulate our entire body, as well as our cat’s or dog’s body. We don’t know a lot about how it works, but we know enough. This system is responsible for a wide variety of homeostatic physiologic functions in the body, and its regulation or dysregulation has profound results.

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is comprised of receptors, neurotransmitters and enzymes. It is an extension of our Central Nervous System (CNS). The ECS interacts with the constituents found in Cannabis, alongside endocannabinoids produced by our own body. Thanks to the ECS, we get high from marijuana, and receive the non-psychoactive benefits of CBD. The ECS is essential to our well being. Our bodies are programmed for cannabis.

What Are Endocannabinoids?

Endocannabinoids are endogenous cannabinoids. This means our bodies make them. They are mediators found in brain and peripherals tissues. They are a form of neurotransmitter, but they behave differently [2]. When a regular neurotransmitter is release, such as GABA, it is considered “pre-synaptic”, and the receptor “post-synaptic”. Endocannabinoids on the other hand, are released from post-synaptic cells, and move “backwards”, towards nerve terminals. The result? With the release of endocannabinoids, ‘postsynaptic target cells can influence their own incoming synaptic signals.'[2] What this means, is that the post-synaptic receptors are able to communicate in a way they can’t with regular neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are the great communicators. They link the various parts of our brain, and nervous system, helping them to speak to one another. A neurotransmitter like GABA is sent to a receptor, and it tells that part of the brain to relax, where as melatonin tells it to sleep and serotonin tells it to be happy. Endocannabinoids and Cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), have a similar effect. CBD tells your body to relax and reduce inflammation. THC is the compound that gets you high, and you have to experience that one first hand to see how it effects your ECS…

What Are Cannabinoids?

The compounds found in cannabis, like THC and CBD, are called cannabinoids. Mechanically, cannabinoids act the same in your body as endocannabinoids. They bind to ECS receptors, which are comprised primarily of cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2). Cannabinoids influence our ECS in ways that our endocannabinoids are not able to. For this reason, people are ingesting cannabinoids in the form of smoke, oil and salves with incredible results. It is common that someone who starts taking CBD for arthritis pain, will also notice deeper sleep, or less anxiety. This is because CB1 and CB2 receptors are found in nearly all of the body’s organs and systems. Taking cannabinoids is not a targeted approach, but rather a broad approach. It is therapeutic to our entire body, and thus can have unexpected results. It’s no wonder CBD has such broad impacts on health and well being.

“With its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and virtually all of the body’s organs, the endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system, we begin to see a mechanism that could connect brain activity and states of physical health and disease.” [2]

To summarize…

The Endocannabinoid system is essential for our well being. It is a system for communication between body and mind, and it influences most of our major organ systems. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids such as CBD and THC work through the CB1 and CB2 receptors contained in our ECS. Through these receptors, the active constituents in cannabis are able to help with a wide array of symptoms, such as pain, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, seizures, and digestive disorders.

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[1] Natalia Battista, et. Al (2011) The endocannabinoid system: an overview

[2] Bradley E. Alger (2013) Getting High on the Endocannabinoid System