What Is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is a system in your body that helps to regulate essential functions, such as appetite and immune response. Although it plays a key role, it was only recently discovered by scientists who were trying to get answers to a different phenomenon: why cannabis has such a profound impact on the body and brain.
The “endo” part of the name of the system means “within” or “inside the body.” The cannabinoids part comes from the class of phytochemicals scientists were originally investigating. Not only do plants, like cannabis contain these chemical compounds, but so too does the human body, and it uses them to regulate its internal environment.
Although the discovery of the system was a lucky break, scientists quickly realized that it held vast therapeutic potential, and is now the subject of intense research. Scientists already know quite a lot about the system, but efforts continue to understand it at a deeper level, with the hope that eventually drugs can be developed to help patients manage a range of currently intractable disorders.
How Your Endocannabinoid System Functions
The endocannabinoid system hinges on the activity of cannabinoids, molecules that serve as chemical messengers in the body. Cannabinoids in the blood interact with nerve cells, like neurons, helping to regulate all sorts of things, from sleep to mood to pain to memory to appetite. The endocannabinoid system can, therefore, be thought of as one of the mechanisms that the body uses to regulate its internal chemical environment, ensuring that the processes necessary for life continue unabated.
Sometimes, however, the system can begin to malfunction. Generation of too many cannabinoids (or not enough) can produce undesirable changes in the body’s internal environment, kicking it out of homeostasis and leading to some of the issues mentioned above, such as depression and pain.
But how does the endocannabinoid system work? Many of the cells in your body contain cannabinoid receptors – little chemical hooks that attach to the cannabinoid molecules in the blood. These hooks, found primarily on immune and nerve cells, use cannabinoids as signals to do something, whether it’s to produce a particular neurotransmitter (like serotonin) or go and fight a harmful microorganism.
There are two kinds of receptors for cannabinoids, which scientists creatively call C1 and C2. C1 receptors, found in abundance in the brain and spinal cord, have been found to have a profound influence on processes that occur primarily within the nervous system itself. Science shows that when cannabinoids bind to C1 receptors in the amygdala -the part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight mechanism – they help to regulate emotional stability and memory.
C2 receptors are found in greater quantity in the peripheral nervous system and immune cells. Cannabinoids which attach to C2 receptors signal to cells to reduce inflammation, helping to mitigate the body’s natural response to many conditions.
The Relationship Of the Endocannabinoid System & CBD
CBD oil doesn’t directly bind to either C1 or C2. Instead, it prevents an enzyme within the body from breaking down the body’s own supply of endocannabinoids. In some people, this enzyme may be overactive, or the body may not be producing enough endocannabinoids to maintain effective homeostasis, and so CBD can help to elevate the number of cannabinoid molecules in circulation.
CBD which stands for “cannabidiol” – a type of cannabinoid – differs significantly from the psychotropic THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is widely believed to be the chemical in the cannabis genus which produces the high associated with smoking the leaves. Scientists have shown that THC directly binds to both C1 and C2 receptors, producing many profound psychological effects, like hallucinations and delusions. CBD is different because it doesn’t attach directly to the receptors. Instead, it creates the circumstances in which the body can regulate the appropriate level of cannabinoids itself. It is not an exogenous cannabinoid, but rather a way of augmenting the effect of endocannabinoids already present.
The Role of Anandamide
Anandamide is the name of one of the body’s most important endocannabinoids. It is believed to be similar to the plant-derived cannabinoid, THC, although the body regulates it in such a way to prevent many of the harmful effects of the exogenous variety.
Anandamide is responsible for a variety of function in the body, including the experience of pleasure, restful sleep, the ability to think clearly, reproductive health, the sensation of pain, and the ability to pay attention. This chemical is also responsible for feelings of motivation – something that people with depression can struggle with.
The Role of 2-ag
2-AG is another endocannabinoid. It hasn’t received the same level of attention as anandamide, but it is found in much higher concentrations in the body and may play an equal role – the science is yet to be determined. Scientists show that 2-AG is required for many of the same things as anandamide, including the regulation of memory, movement, mood, and sleep. It’s also believed to play a role in bone health too.
2-AG may be particularly useful for people who want to reduce inflammation and improve digestion. Some people have sufficient 2-AG circulating in their blood but do not have enough receptors to get all of the benefits. Researchers, however, now know that increasing the quantity of Lactobacillus acidophilus in the stomach can increase the number of C2 receptors. Increasing the number of C2 receptors may, therefore, be as simple as giving the lactobacillus more of the food that they like to eat. Lactobacillus eat foods from the allium family of vegetables, such as leeks, onion, and garlic, as well as other vegetables like chicory, kale, spinach, banana, and artichokes.
The body must make all endocannabinoids from sources in the diet. Andamiamid is made from arachidonic acid, a type of fat commonly found in plant foods, like peanut butter. 2-AG is made from arachidonic acid and omega-6 fatty acids. Those who want to ensure that they have the right dietary building blocks for 2-AG should be eating foods like flaxseed, shellfish, and poultry.
What Does the Endocannabinoid system control?
Given the number of bodily functions in which the endocannabinoid system is believed to play a role, it is quite remarkable that it is a recent discovery. Scientists think the system helps to regulate digestion, reproduction, neuroprotection, inflammation, movement, temperature, pain, sleep, metabolism, and appetite. They have also related it to cardiovascular function, and the development of new brain cells.
Interest in the endocannabinoid system, however, mainly stems from the possible role that it could play in disease prevention.
Scientists think that some of the most common degenerative diseases could relate to disturbances in the endocannabinoid system. Science shows that tumor cells have more cannabinoid receptors than their healthy counterparts. Other conditions, like chronic pain and Parkinson’s, also show dysregulation of the cannabinoid system.
How Can CBD Help?
CBD oil is derived from hemp, a particular subspecies of cannabis that is naturally low in THC. CBD oil is used by many people who have symptoms that are not amenable to conventional medical interventions. CBD oil is used to regulate the endocannabinoid system to alleviate the following conditions and symptoms:
- Lack of appetite. Endocannabinoids form part of the body’s system which controls appetite. Appetite regulation can be a problem for people experiencing severe stress or undergoing treatment for cancer. Normalizing the levels of endocannabinoids in the body with CBD oil can help restore appetite to normal levels.
- Pain. Too few endocannabinoids can lead to an excess of inflammation which, in turn, can generate pain. Furthermore, cannabinoids that bind to C1 receptors in the central nervous system can help alleviate pain from causes other than inflammation.
- Sleep issues. Sleep disorders are becoming more common, thanks to exposure to blue light from mobile devices at night, high-stress lifestyles, and a lack of time to get everything done during the day. CBD oil may be able to help with sleep issues by allowing the endocannabinoid system to regulate itself better.
- Anxiety. Cannabinoids help to mitigate anxiety by binding to certain regions of the brain, especially the amygdala. CBD oil downregulates enzymes which break down endocannabinoids, leaving more available to bind to target cells, potentially alleviating symptoms of anxiety.
Although CBD oil is derived from hemp, a species of cannabis, it is not the same. Cannabis, when in whole plant form, is a collection of many different chemicals, some of which have psychotropic effects. CBD is an isolate of just one compound. It’s analogous to the spice turmeric, and the supposed active constituent, curcumin. Turmeric spice is just the dried, ground up root of the turmeric plant, whereas curcumin is specifically the yellow pigment that gives the spice its distinctive color and many of its therapeutic effects.
Ready to give it a try?
CBD oil is a valuable tool which allows people to regulate their endocannabinoid system better. Not only is the emerging science showing that CBD oil is safe, but it’s also useful in dealing with some of the many problems that result when this critical body system doesn’t function correctly. Taking CBD oil may help improve overall health and wellbeing while acting as an adjunct therapy for those with more severe conditions.
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