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A simple guide to your endocannabinoid system

The human body, along with all other animal bodies except for insects, has evolved to interact with CBD. As a molecule found in hemp plants, CBD closely resembles those naturally produced by our endocannabinoid system (ECS).

To fully comprehend the advantages of CBD, it's crucial to explore the functions of the ECS and its role in maintaining balance within our bodies.

Delving into the Endocannabinoid System

The ECS serves as a master regulator within the body, responsible for maintaining homeostasis and monitoring any imbalances that may occur in various aspects, including appetite, pain, digestion, and stress. Present in synapses in the brain, central nervous system, organs, and skin receptors, the ECS requires a consistent supply of cannabinoids for effective functioning. These compounds can be endocannabinoids, which are produced by the body, or phytocannabinoids, derived from plants.

When stress or insufficient sleep deplete our natural cannabinoids, symptoms such as anxiety and sleep issues may arise. CBD, with its molecular structure similar to our body's endocannabinoids, can be used to replenish our resources and restore balance.

A Relatively New Discovery: The Endocannabinoid System

The ECS is a relatively recent discovery, with much still to learn about its intricacies. In the 1980s, scientists first identified cannabinoid receptors in the body, which led to the subsequent discovery of the first endocannabinoid, anandamide, in 1992. Since then, research has primarily focused on anandamide and another endocannabinoid, arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG).

Anandamide, derived from the Sanskrit word "Ananda," meaning bliss, is a fatty acid neurotransmitter and the first endocannabinoid discovered. On the other hand, 2-AG is an ester derived from omega-6-arachidonic acid and glycerol. It plays a role in a wide array of physiological functions, such as emotion, cognition, energy balance, pain sensation, and neuroinflammation.

Components of the Endocannabinoid System

The ECS comprises three main components: endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids function as chemical signals, conveying different messages as needed. Receptors, which are present throughout the body, pick up these signals and regulate the systems they are connected to. Enzymes dissolve the endocannabinoids, allowing receptors to receive new signals.

CB receptors, of which there are more than 20 types, are scattered throughout the body. The most well-known receptors, CB1 and CB2, are mainly found in the brain and nervous system, and areas related to immune response, respectively. The ECS operates continuously to maintain homeostasis, or the harmonious balance of the body.

The Role of Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids, also found in plants like marijuana (high-THC cannabis) and hemp (low-THC cannabis), closely resemble the endocannabinoids in our bodies. As a result, our bodies process them in the same way, allowing receptors to utilise plant-derived cannabinoids as though they were naturally produced. This interaction is the basis for the beneficial effects of cannabinoid use, as it consciously impacts our homeostasis and supports our body's natural response.

Various Types of Cannabinoids

The hemp plant alone contains over 113 cannabinoids, with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) being the most well-known. While THC is psychoactive and has both wellness benefits and potential negative effects, CBD offers powerful benefits with minimal side effects.

Other cannabinoids, such as CBG (cannabigerol) and CBN (cannabinol), occur naturally in smaller amounts in cannabis plants. Researchers continue to study their unique properties and benefits. Hemp, a variety of Cannabis sativa, is preferred for wellness purposes because it contains an abundance of CBD and very little THC.

The diversity of cannabinoids explains why some CBD oil manufacturers create unique blends. Full-spectrum CBD oil products, for example, are extracted from the hemp plant with a composition as close to the original as possible. These products contain trace amounts of THC, which subjects them to strict regulations in many countries. Other manufacturers isolate specific cannabinoids to reap the benefits of individual molecules.

Exploring Endocannabinoid Deficiency

Though the science is not yet complete, some individuals may have endocannabinoid deficiencies, which could contribute to conditions like migraines, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and fibromyalgia. These conditions often have no clear cause and may not respond well to traditional treatments. Scientists continue to investigate the role cannabinoids could play in addressing these conditions.

Some people also believe that when our bodies are under excessive stress, our endocannabinoid system becomes overworked, creating a benefit when external cannabinoids are introduced. Regardless of whether there is a deficiency, using plant-derived cannabinoids can positively impact the ECS in our bodies.

The Road Ahead

The ECS is an integral part of why cannabinoids impact our bodies, alongside other systems in our skin and cells. In order for organisations like the UK Food Standards Agency and MHRA to approve them, extensive research is necessary to determine tolerable and effective amounts, as well as potential risks, just as it is with approved food and medications. Research continues as the results appear promising.

Individuals experience positive outcomes when using cannabinoids for enjoyment and wellness purposes. In some cases, doctors may recommend cannabinoids as alternative treatments when traditional methods prove ineffective or too risky.

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