An Invisible System

Most students spend plenty of time learning about the digestive system, the circulatory system, and other internal systems that allow the human body to properly function. However, not much, if any, time is given to learning about the endocannabinoid system(ECS). This is partially because medical and scientific professionals are still learning much about this unique system that exists in all mammals.

There are numerous reasons why you might want to learn about this system as an adult. For example, it plays a big role in how the body handles the psychoactive compounds in marijuana. In a time where the legalization of marijuana is a widely discussed topic, it’s good to have an understanding of what is really happening. Your ECS has a far more important role to play than handling marijuana and CBD. This vital system effects nearly every other organ system in the body.

The ECS And Homeostasis

You may be familiar with the term homeostasis. This term primarily relates to the body’s efforts to maintain a stable equilibrium in various ways. For example, the body is constantly working to maintain a body temperature close to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Homeostasis is an important concept throughout the body, not just when it comes to body temperature.

Another example of homeostasis occurs in the brain. Neurons in the brain communicate with one another via electrical signals. These neurons are constantly listening to all other neurons for an input. They don’t want too many signals to come through at once. There’s an acceptable equilibrium that is reached through homeostasis.

Sometimes, the neurons can get overwhelmed with too many signals at once and thus homeostasis is disrupted. That also happens to be a scenario in which the endocannabinoid system comes into play. One of the primary functions of the ECS is to help maintain homeostasis in the body.

But What Is The ECS?

To understand how the ECS impacts homeostasis you need to understand exactly what it is. In simple terms, it consists of three different pieces. There are the endocannabinoids themselves, the cannabinoid receptors, and the enzymes.

The receptors are attached to many cells throughout the body, such as the neurons mentioned in the previous example. Endocannabinoids are molecules that can attach to those receptors and cause them to activate. Depending on where the receptor is located, this could cause a variety of different effects. Once the endocannabinoid has activated the receptor, the enzyme will immediately break it down and discard it. In this way, the endocannabinoid is created and used only as needed and never in excess.

The body produces two different types of endocannabinoids. The first is referred to as anandamide and the second is 2-AG. Plants also produce cannabinoids that mimic both of the endocannabinoids produced in the body. THC is the plant-based variation of anandamide and CBD is the plant-based variation of 2-AG.

Let’s return to the example of the overstimulated neurons in the brain. The neuron that is overstimulated would create endocannabinoids. Those endocannabinoids would travel down the pathway to the neurons communicating with it. There, it would bind to the receptors on the outside of the neuron causing it to “be quiet”. The result is that the neuron is no longer overstimulated and homeostasis is achieved.

Processes similar to this occur throughout the body. Cells produce endocannabinoids whenever they begin to deviate from homeostasis. The endocannabinoids bind to receptors on other cells that help the system return to its comfortable equilibrium.

How does the Endocannabinoid System Benefits Humans?

This might sound like it only affects systems beneath the surface. But it does have many interesting effects for humans. In particular, plant-based cannabinoids like CBD can be used to achieve equilibrium when the body is not producing enough endocannabinoids on its own. Now, you may be interested in reading studies about cannabis and schizophrenia, because its more relevant than you may have considered.

This can result in a reduction of anxiety, alleviating stress, reducing inflammation, and helping fight depression. When cells, organs, and systems move away from homeostasis, bad things start to happen. It often results in experiencing mental and mood related symptoms.

That is why THC is being researched for treating various conditions as well as CBD. They both affect the body in different ways by interacting differently with cannabinoid receptors. Studies are constantly being conducted and one day we will have a much better understanding of how the ECS works and how we can manage it to thus help manage our health.