- Scientists discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the 1990s and gave it its name based on its similarities with the plant cannabinoids.
- Its primary role is homeostasis or creating a balance in the systems.
- It is present in the immune system, organs, and throughout the body.
- It comprises enzymes, endocannabinoids, and receptors (CB1 and CB2), all working together to facilitate the processes.
You must have heard about transmitter systems of the human body, like the central nervous system. Interestingly, scientists recently discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS) while researching THC cannabinoids. The ECS is a critical part of everyday functions. Read on to understand the endocannabinoid system, including its structure and operations.
In This Article
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system present in the bodies of all mammals. It is involved in regulating a variety of physiological and cognitive processes, including pain, mood, appetite, and memory.
Its primary role is regulating various functions in the body, and unlike what many people believe, the ECS is present and active, whether you use cannabis or not. This physiological system keeps you healthy by creating a perfect balance in your body.
The human endocannabinoid system is present throughout the body, in the organs, immune system, brain, and connective tissues. The ECS has various roles throughout the tissues, but its vital function is homeostasis or stabilization regardless of external factors.
How Was The Endocannabinoid System Discovered?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) was discovered by a team of scientists led by Raphael Mechoulam at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the 1990s. They identified and characterized the first endocannabinoid, anandamide, and showed that it binds to the same receptors as THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. This groundbreaking research laid the foundation for further studies of the ECS and its role in regulating various physiological processes.
How Does It Work?
The ECS features a massive system of chemicals and receptors densely located in various body parts. For instance, the cannabinoid receptors are more than any other receptors in the brain, actively checking how other neurotransmitters work.
This ability makes it easier for them to perform regulation better. They ensure immediate feedback and adjust other system activities like alertness and hunger, increasing or decreasing the levels accordingly. Your body produces endocannabinoids to activate these ECS receptors.
These molecules are similar to those in the cannabis plant. The first one discovered by scientists was named anandamide, based on the word ananda in Sanskrit, meaning bliss. Every human body contains cannabis-like molecules in the brain.
Medical marijuana that people have been using for centuries works by manipulating these receptor sites. Experts have also established that the ECS has therapeutic functions in the body, targeting appetite stimulation, immune response, and several other processes.
Additionally, it is a target for conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Research is still ongoing to understand the endocannabinoid system, but studies show that it has three main aspects: endocannabinoids, enzymes, and endogenous cannabinoid receptors.
Your body produces the endocannabinoid molecules, also the endogenous cannabinoids. They are similar to the cannabinoids from medicinal cannabis, but the difference is that they are not from the plant but from the body.
The body naturally produces them to keep the internal functions in check or balanced and ensure that processes run smoothly.
These molecules are natural, lipid-based neurotransmitters or chemicals that transmit messages between each nerve cell. They are a crucial aspect of your body, and scientists believe there may be more of them, but they have yet to identify their functions.
There are two known endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). More endocannabinoids and their functions will likely come up with time and more research.
There are cannabinoid receptors all over your body for endocannabinoid signaling to activate the ECS. Endocannabinoids attach to each of them, and the result usually depends on the receptor’s location and the nature of the bond.
They are also in the cell membranes, and according to findings, they are more than the population of most other receptor systems. These receptors step into action once activated to perform various physiological processes.
There are two central CB receptors, the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
They are usually present in the connective tissues, the nervous system, and the organs performing several functions. For instance, endocannabinoids may bind to the CB1 receptors in the spinal nerves to help relieve pain.
These are common in the immune system and related structures. Often, the molecules bind to the CB2s to inform the cell receptors when something is wrong, in the case of inflammation or an attack by an autoimmune disorder.
These endocannabinoid receptors are present in many tissues, each with a specific function. However, researchers predict that there may be a third one yet to be detected.
Once the endocannabinoids and the receptors have activated the ECS and the physiological process is complete, the metabolic enzymes perform the final step of homeostasis. The enzymes are in charge of breaking down the endocannabinoids once they finish the job.
They step in after neurotransmission to break down the molecules since they are no longer necessary. The two enzymes performing this role include the FAAH (Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase) that breaks down anandamide and monoacylglycerol acid lipase for 2-AG.
What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?
The ECS can be complex; even experts cannot clearly outline all its functions and how they occur. However, if you are keen on what the endocannabinoid system does, the following are some associated processes.
- Learning and memory
- Emotional processing
- Temperature control
- Pain control
- Inflammatory and immune responses
- Eating (improved appetite)
- Better metabolism
- Mood improvement
- Reducing chronic pain
- Improved mental health
- Proper muscle formation
- Reducing inflammation
- Inhibiting the growth of cancer cells
- Better immune response
- Managing stress
- Improved liver functions
All these functions are homeostatic processes or your body’s ability to create a balance despite external changes. For instance, if you get an injury, the ECS activates to help ease the pain and return the body to normal operations.
Scientists are now confident that the critical role of the endocannabinoid system is maintaining homeostasis. Some professionals also believe in clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD), where individuals have low endocannabinoid levels meaning they have problems with their ECS.
How Do Cannabinoids in Medical Marijuana Interact With ECS?
Marijuana interacts with the endocannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) by binding to them.
The main psychoactive compound in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), binds to the CB1 receptors, which are predominantly located in the central nervous system. This interaction leads to the typical effects of marijuana such as altered perception, mood changes, and impaired motor function.
Cannabidiol (CBD), another major compound in marijuana, does not bind directly to the CB1 or CB2 receptors but modulates their activity. CBD has been shown to have various therapeutic effects, including anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic effects, by indirectly regulating the activity of the endocannabinoid system.
CBN (Cannabinol) also binds to CB1 receptors to a small extent. Its effects on CB2 cannabis receptors have not been verified as there have been mixed results in different studies.
Heather Wilson is a passionate cannabis enthusiast who has dedicated over four years of her life to working as a budtender. With a deep understanding of the difference between marijuana strains, cannabinoids, terpenes, and their effects, she has helped countless customers find the perfect product for their needs.
In addition to her work as a budtender, Heather is also an enthusiastic cook who loves to try new recipes incorporating cannabis. Whether she's whipping up a batch of infused cookies or cooking a delicious meal with cannabis-infused oil, Heather is always eager to explore the culinary possibilities of this versatile plant.
For Heather, cannabis is more than just a recreational substance. She uses it for her health and is an advocate for safe and responsible use. With a strong desire to spread awareness about the benefits of cannabis and fight the stigma that still surrounds marijuana, Heather is a true champion of this misunderstood plant.
Through her work and cooking, Heather is helping to change the conversation around marijuana and show the world that this plant has a lot to offer, both medically and recreationally. Heather joined with Brian to found Concept420 in 2022.