THE AMAZING ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
Did you know hemp has been known and loved by the human race since our very inception?
It’s true. Some ethnobotanists go so far as to say that hemp was the first intentionally cultivated plant ever. It shows up across various ancient cultures; everyone from the ancient Hebrews to early Asian peoples used it — and left plenty of evidence behind.
But the mechanism through which hemp works hasn’t been understood since quite recently. In the 60s, scientists finally discovered CBD…but that still didn’t explain everything. It wasn’t until the early 90s that cannabis researchers realized CBD was interacting with a system built into human physiology.
That system is called the endocannabinoid system, and this blog will be all about it. Here’s an outline:
- What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
- CBD, THC, and ‘Internal Equivalents’
- The Bliss Molecules
- How the Endocannabinoid System Really Works
- Does CBD Strengthen the Endocannabinoid System?
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
You’re probably familiar with your body’s immune system or cardiovascular system. All told, there are ten such major systems that make us humans tick.
But ‘upstream’ of all of them, and even more innate system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is holding everything together and truly amazing. What does this system do? Basically, it maintains inner body balance by helping every other system keep in communication with the rest. It helps your body stay in that ‘goldilocks zone’ where everything is just right.
In order to do all the jobs it does, the ECS needs to be very complex. It’s comprised of three major parts, which we’ll explore more soon:
- Endocannabinoid Receptors
- Endocannabinoid Enzymes
CBD, THC, and ‘Internal Equivalents’
To really appreciate the endocannabinoid system and what it does, it’s helpful to have some context. The way in which the ECS was discovered actually tells us a lot about how it works! So let’s go back, almost 60 years, and see how things began…
The big discoveries started in the 1960s, when a recently graduated natural chemist from Israel, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, realized cannabis was being overlooked. Why? No one knew its active ingredients! Speaking on a podcast just last year, Mechoulam explained that he was “surprised to find out that while morphine had been isolated from opium 150 years previously, and cocaine had been isolated 100 years previously, the chemistry of cannabis was not well known.”
The lights came on in 1963 and 1964 when Mechoulam and his team fully identified both CBD and THC at their Hebrew University laboratory. Suddenly it all made sense! CBD was the active ingredient in hemp, and it was responsible for the plant’s health benefits.
Then came the next conceptual question: what were these cannabinoids activating — what were they binding to? Why exactly did they pair so well with the human body?
It was also “quite unacceptable to most neuroscientists” that CBD wouldn’t have some sort of internal equivalent, explains researcher Lumír Hanuš. So a growing group of cannabis chemists set about looking, not knowing exactly what they were looking for…
The missing link came in 1990 when a first cannabinoid receptor was discovered. It was named CB1. In 1993 a second receptor called CB2 was discovered, this one having slightly different qualities than CB1. While CB1 was densely concentrated in the brain, CB2 was more active in the peripheral body and vital organs.
All of a sudden CBD’s power made sense: these CB1 & CB2 receptors were what it was binding too!
The Bliss Molecules
But many researchers suspected there was even more to the story. “Once cannabinoid receptors had been discovered,” a review study explained of the thinking at that time, “it became important to establish whether mammalian tissues also produce a cannabinoid receptor agonist or whether these receptors are targets only for plant cannabinoids and their synthetic cousins.”
In 1993 Lumír Hanuš and his colleagues found the ‘internal equivalent’ they’d been looking for. They named this first endocannabinoid anandamide, or “the bliss molecule.” Anandamide, it turned out, played a crucial role in regulating emotion and mood. People with more replete levels of anandamide really were more blissful.
Soon enough enzymes responsible for anandamide’s breakdown and buildup were also discovered, and the 3-part nature of the endocannabinoid system had finally unfolded.
How the Endocannabinoid System Really Works
If you found the last two sections a little technical, don’t worry. Endocannabinoid science is indeed technical stuff! We’ll try to distill some of its most important concepts.
Remember how we said the ECS is comprised of three major parts? Let’s expound on that here.
- Endocannabinoids | Endocannabinoids (ECB’s) like anandamide are produced to combat stress and help the body maintain homeostasis. In general, higher levels of ECB’s are almost always better than lower levels.
Endocannabinoids are produced in virtually every area of the body, virtually all the time. They even explain the psychological boost you get from things like massage therapy or exercise!
- Endocannabinoid Receptors | Endocannabinoid receptors pick up messages from endocannabinoids — and phytocannabinoids like CBD! — which allows them to signal to other physiological systems.
Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout virtually every part of the body, with CB1 receptors being the most prevalent receptor in their class within the brain.
- Endocannabinoid Enzymes | Endocannabinoid enzymes help keep endocannabinoid levels in the proper range. Some enzymes create endocannabinoids (from the healthy fats we eat, interestingly enough), while other enzymes break them down after they’ve done their job.
Does CBD Strengthen the Endocannabinoid System?
While the endocannabinoid system is pretty good at what it does, it’s not bulletproof. And let’s face it: modern life is tough! A chronically-stressed ECS can get depleted over time, and when that happens, inner balance can be lost.
Thankfully, those who feel they’ve fallen out of a healthy balance may find an ally in CBD. A powerful phytocannabinoid, CBD can essentially sub out for endocannabinoids and help your body get itself back into homeostasis.
It does this in at least two ways. The first is simple: CBD can bind to CB2 receptors in place of endocannabinoids, possibly even changing the shape of these receptors and making them more efficient. The second way is less direct, and entails CBD inhibiting the action of breakdown enzymes like FAAH, thereby allowing endocannabinoids to stick around longer and do their job.
CBD is so versatile, it even binds to receptors outside the traditional endocannabinoid system. But that’s a topic for some other time…
If you’re ready to activate your endocannabinoid system and attain inner balance, we’re here to help. We provide premium CBD products and premium locally-based support. We offer free local delivery services on St. Thomas and St. John, with services to St. Croix coming soon!
Residents and visitors can call us at (678) 404-9398 or visit us online to order. Local Delivery Services are Monday – Friday 10 am – 4 pm and Saturdays from 11 am-4 pm.