Our Endocannabinoid System

The popularity of cannabidiol (CBD) is on the rise as more research reveals the benefits of adding hemp oil to your medicine cabinet. But - how so? It’s been discovered that CBD works with your Endocannabinoid System (ECS), by stimulating receptors through its neural pathways. It’s been known to help with depression, anxiety, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, and so much more. It is able to do so much because of its relationship with the endocannabinoid system. Let's get started!

What Does The Endocannabinoid System Do?

The endocannabinoid system covers the whole body. It’s in the brain, in our muscles, and in our skin. It’s primary function being homeostasis, which is what keeps the body regulated. If our bodies weren’t controlled, we would be running fevers, having psychotic breakdowns, random pain throughout our body we can’t explain, and our skin wouldn’t know how to rebuild it’s skin cells. We need this system to maintain a comfortable life, and survive.

By using endocannabinoids, it directs traffic of neurotransmitters throughout your body. With a healthy ECS, you have a regular appetite, clear skin, and no random unwanted pain. There are many parts of the body that benefit from this system and many diseases that happen when it isn’t properly functioning.

Skin

The best thing about the endocannabinoid system is that its job is to regulate. It doesn’t just promote cell growth in your skin, keeping your skin's cells on a healthy life cycle, the ECS inhibits growth in unwanted areas. If your ECS isn’t working properly, this is when you can get skin diseases like eczema and psoriasis. Many skin conditions and rashes are caused by inflammation, which the CB2 receptor is in charge of controlling.

Brain

We know that brain cells communicate by firing neurotransmitters at each other. But sometimes that gunfight goes wrong. Many neurons could be sending neurotransmitters that are too excited, overloading the receivers. Endocannabinoids come out (backward) and control how much information is getting to the receiving neuron. With too much information, it won't know what to do so it just won't react. The endocannabinoids quiet down the excited neurotransmitters so the neuron can understand. Without this process, people develop extreme mood and pain disorders. An overflow of chemicals can cause an array of symptoms, which is why we need a healthy endocannabinoid system.

Diet

A properly working Endocannabinoid system lets you experience the reward sensation when you eat to promote existence. It also disperses the nutrients efficiently, storing only what is necessary, and discarding the rest. It promotes a healthy metabolism and is smart about its energy storage. However, if your system isn’t healthy, you can find yourself severely over or underweight.

Muscles And Joints

The endocannabinoid system is in charge of regulating a liquid called synovium. Synovium is what is in between your joints, and is what starts stiffening up with arthritis. The ECS is also in charge of regrowth and maintaining healthy cell life, so muscles heal faster and more completely. Endocannabinoids also help soften the pain by inhibiting some of the transmitters trying to spread it. They all work together to make sure you feel at your best.


ECS and The Brain's Neuron Regulation

To fully understand the endocannabinoid system, you need to know how the brain works. The brain is made up of tiny cells that all use electric impulses to communicate with each other. These small cells are called neurons. Neurons communicate with each other by sending neurotransmitters out to each other. Neurotransmitters are things like dopamine and serotonin; they are chemicals or hormones that are supposed to get a response out of neurons.

The neuron, or presynaptic cell, releases the neurotransmitter into a tiny space that is called a synapse. This is the small nanometer gap between neurons. Each neurotransmitter is like a key, and each neuron is like a lock. The neurotransmitter finds the receiving neuron, or postsynaptic cell, and activates it causing a biological response.

When someone has a chemical imbalance, their neurotransmitters are either overstimulated, or there is a deficit. Disorders like depression and schizophrenia are prime examples of having a chemical imbalance. The goal in treatment of chemical imbalances is to give the brain the chemicals it needs. This also imposes a larger risk to become a drug addict than someone without a chemical imbalance.

Sometimes the brain will continue to stimulate even after the situation has passed. With chronic pain, the brain can continue to tell itself it is in pain when there is no threat. When people with autoimmune diseases get inflammation, it is their body attacking a pathogen that isn’t even there. The conversation that the brain has with itself is vital, and the endocannabinoid system helps keep everything regulated.

In 1992, the endocannabinoid system was discovered by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, Professor Lumír Hanuš, and Dr. William Devane (great interview here). The very first endocannabinoid, anandamide, was discovered while researching the CB1 and CB2 receptors. They were able to isolate and study the chemical, breaking open a whole new world of scientific research.

The researchers named this chemical anandamide after the Sanskrit word for bliss. This also granted the nickname “The Bliss Molecule”. Dr. Mechoulam had already discovered THC in 1964, and to his delight, the two molecules acted identically.

The discovery of the bliss molecule confirmed a suspicion that our brains produce their own cannabinoids similar to the ones found in the cannabis plant. And these chemicals we produce in our brains have to have receptors, which is where the endocannabinoid system comes in.


Parts Of The Endocannabinoid System

Endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids are small molecules that are produced by our brains that bind to activate cannabinoid receptors, also known as ligands. Unlike many hormones and neurotransmitters in your brain, endocannabinoids aren’t stored. This is a unique property that helps it regulate the use of other chemicals. The endocannabinoids are called upon while other neurotransmitters are running around trying to send their message, making sure they don’t last too long or last long enough. They can do this because of their ability to be agonists or antagonists.

The Agonist

When the endocannabinoid is being an agonist, it is binding to make a reaction happen. For example, the endocannabinoid AEA can diminish pain. When you consume CBD oil, the chemical reaction elevates the level of AEA, making the pain either lessen or go away. This is because the CBD is encouraging the neurotransmitter.

The Antagonist

When the endocannabinoid is being an antagonist, it works to prevent the neurotransmitters from sending their message. When you smoke marijuana that has a high THC content but no CBD content, you can risk having psychotic side effects. CBD acts as an antagonist of the receptor that interacts with THC, CB1. By using THC and CBD at the same time, you can lessen the effects of THC like drowsiness, overeating, paranoia, and anxiety because of its antagonist properties.

The Origin Story

Endocannabinoids are just like cannabinoids except for their origin, our brains. They are made from fat like molecules that are made from within the cell membranes. They are made exactly when they are needed, being synthesized on demand. Another unique property is that endocannabinoids travel backward, which is another reason they work so well.

One Step Forward Is Two Steps Back

There are postsynaptic and presynaptic neurons in a conversation. The presynaptic neuron is the one that holds the neurotransmitters, it’s the sender. The postsynaptic neuron is the one catching the neurotransmitters, the receive. Normally, the presynaptic cell is the one doing the sending. But with endocannabinoids, they are released from the postsynaptic cell. This is called retrograde signaling.

Since the endocannabinoids are coming from the receiving end, they can control how many neurotransmitters can get their message across. They can control how nervous the impulse is and how much to diminish it. This process is how CBD helps patients, by mediating their brain communication to achieve a better quality of life. If your endocannabinoids aren’t doing this correctly, hemp oil can help your brain get it together.


Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabinoid receptors are located on the surface of the neuron. When a presynaptic cell sends a message, they are sending it to the postsynaptic cell’s receptors. They are the gateway into the hearts of the postsynaptic cell. Cannabinoid receptors can sense changes outside the cell and let the inside know whats going on, this way an appropriate response can be initiated - what a considerate compound! Of all the receptors that cover the cells, the most common receptors we know of are the CB1 and CB2 receptors.

CB1 and CB2

CB1 is found all over the body, but it is mostly found in the brain. It is the receptor that interacts with THC to create that euphoric feeling. CB1 receptors are mainly located in the central and peripheral nervous system and regulate the following:

  • Mood
  • Diet
  • Sleep Habits
  • Pain Sensitivity

CB2 is spread out over the whole body. It is in the brain, in muscle tissue, your skin, everywhere. It is most interactive with your immune system. It has been proven to modify all immune cell types they have tested it on to date. This means it’s a fantastic regulator of the immune system. If your endocannabinoid system isn’t working properly in this area, this is how many autoimmune diseases are thought to originate.

Metabolic Enzymes

Metabolic enzymes have many jobs that are necessary for homeostasis. One of those jobs is to break down endocannabinoids that are no longer needed. These enzymes make sure that the molecules get used only when they are necessary and only for as long as required.

Many neurotransmitters and hormones can last for seconds to minutes and be saved for later use. Endocannabinoids are created on the spot, and then the enzymes break them down instead of storing them into vesicles.

It is also beneficial when the process is being inhibited. CBD can block the FAAH enzyme from breaking down anandamide. This can create longer periods of relief for patients experiencing pain because of the effects of the endocannabinoid.


In Closing

It’s common to have imperfections in your body when there is so much going on. Taking vitamins, exercising, eating healthy and having a healthy sleep regiment are great ways to help keep your endocannabinoid system healthy. But if you have a chemical imbalance or severe injury, you might need a little more help.

Cannabidiol is a chemical that regulates the endocannabinoid system. It has been proven to help many different diseases and disorders because of its versatility. So many lives have been changed for the better by switching to CBD, could you be next?


Keep Learning:

How Brain Cells Use Chemicals to Communicate