The endocannabinoid system is a hot topic right now, and sounds intimidatingly scientific to most of us, but is actually an incredibly interesting part of our bodies, the potential of which has only recently come to light. If you’re baffled about the endocannabinoid system and want to learn a little more about this versatile and complex body feature, here are three things you might like to know:
Why it’s called the endocannabinoid system
Like many, you may be wondering why something that exists inside our body is named after cannabis, and your curiosity is completely justified. The “cannabinoid” part of the name of course comes from “cannabis", while the "endo" part comes from the word "endogenous," meaning something that is produced naturally inside of your body.
This name alludes to the fact that cannabinoids are already produced inside the body, and in a way, that is exactly what is happening. The endocannabinoid system existed in your body even before you were born, as your brain developed throughout childhood, and is still with you now. We’re all born with cannabinoids in our bodies, and recent research has started to uncover the significance of this, and what more knowledge of this system could mean for our health.
What the endocannabinoid system actually does
The endocannabinoid system (ECS, for short) consists of three key components; the endocannabinoids themselves, the receptors found within the nervous system that the endocannabinoids and cannabinoids bond with, and the enzymes that work to break down the endocannabinoids and cannabinoids throughout this system.
The ECS is a vital part of the process of homeostasis; the body’s attempt to keep our internal bodies working at optimal level depending on the external environment we are in. It monitors key levels and functions within the body, such as our temperature, hormones, heartbeat, energy levels, what’s moving through our bloodstream, and so on. When the levels are not quite right, the endocannabinoid system kicks into high gear and works to correct it. A great example is when you are feeling too hot, you begin to sweat, which is your ECS reacting to the conditions and working to cool you down. The endocannabinoid system is thought to help regulate everything from our appetite, sleep and mood, to our memory, immune system and digestion.
When they have done their job, enzymes are released to break down the endocannabinoids and stop them from moving the needle too far and sending your body off balance in the other direction. It’s a complex system, but an amazingly intuitive one.
How CBD and other cannabis products affect the ECS
When people smoke marijuana products, they have the potential to activate the endocannabinoid system in both positive and negative ways. They are essentially flooding their endocannabinoid system with a compound that it may or may not be able to put to any kind of beneficial use - basically, it could be doing more harm than good.
However, CBD is thought to stimulate the endocannabinoid system in a more controlled and positive way. This is why CBD products are popular for pain and inflammation; receiving the benefits of the plant without the negative side effects and potential long-term damage.
Changes in the legal status of CBD have meant research into the endocannabinoid system has seen a much-needed boost, particularly in the area of the ECS relating to gut health. For more insight into endocannabinoid system research, I recommend taking a look at this informative TED talk: Demystifying the endocannabinoid system, by Ruth Ross, for more in-depth information on this fascinating function of our bodies.