The Endocannabinoid System - Explained Simply:
The endocannabinoid system (ECS), is part of the human nervous system. “Endo” means that it is an endogenous system (a natural component of the body). The ECS has endogenous cannabinoids, i.e. endocannabinoids, which dock to various receptors throughout the body. Cannabinoid receptors are found in various organs, such as in the nervous, respiratory, circulatory and digestive systems.
What does the endocannabinoid system do
The endocannabinoid system regulates a variety of processes and thus influences our mood as well as our appetite, memory and inflammatory processes in our bodies. It’s designed to keep a healthy balance in the body. Cannabinoids bind to specific receptors, such as CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors help us in memory processing and pain regulation, while CB2 receptors act on the immune system.
The effect of the endocannabinoids can be imitated or enhanced by herbal cannabinoids as they occur in the hemp plant.
The Endocannabinoid System:
- The discovery of the endocannabinoid system
- Endocannabinoid system structure - The key roles
- How does hemp interact with the endocannabinoid system?
1. The discovery of the endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system was discovered in 1992 by the National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S. Interestingly, the endocannabinoid system was only discovered through the clarification of the effect of exogenous cannabinoids, the active ingredients of the hemp plant. An international group of scientists proved that besides exogenous cannabinoids, there are also endogenous ligands––the endocannabinoids. Research has progressed since then, but it is still a long way from completely clarifying how this complex system works. There are increasing signs that the endocannabinoid system is responsible for the balance of our body, and that a disturbance of that balance plays a role in chronic diseases such as migraine or fibromyalgia.
2. Endocannabinoid system structure - Key roles
The endocannabinoid system is a sophisticated system of receptors, endogenous and exogenous cannabinoids and enzymes that build up or break down the cannabinoids.
Our body’s cells produce endocannabinoids in response to various stimuli. They fulfil their function by binding to and activating the cannabinoid receptors. When they’ve done their job, the endocannabinoids are broken down again by the body. This enables the body to react quickly to stimuli and adapt the functions of the endocannabinoid system to the needs of the body.
The most important endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-arachidonoglycerol (in short: 2-AG). When these substances bind to the corresponding receptors CB1 and CB2, which are present in various organs throughout the body, they trigger a reaction in the corresponding cells. This influences our mood, memory, concentration, appetite and perception of pain. Certain activities increase our endocannabinoid level. For example, our body produces more endocannabinoids when we sing, read books or jog. That is why we feel so good during these activities; our mood rises, the stress level drops.
Normally, the regulation of the endocannabinoid system works through our endogenous cannabinoids, i.e. without any external influences. But sometimes our body needs a little push from the outside; then the plant-based cannabinoids that support the endocannabinoid system come into play. More than 113 cannabinoids are currently known by scientists to be present in the cannabis plant. One of the best studied cannabinoids is CBD, which helps us naturally reduce stress and relax.
2.1 The functions of the CB1 receptors
CB1 receptors were discovered in 1990 and are mainly located in the brain, specifically in areas such as the hippocampus and the cerebellum. Further CB1 receptors are found in fatty tissue, the gastrointestinal tract and also in our muscles. The endocannabinoid anandamide is the natural ligand of the CB1 receptor. When the body produces anandamide, it binds to the CB1 receptor and thus influences the following processes:
The CB1 receptors have an impact on:
- processing of our memory
- regulation of pain
- motor control
- perception of pleasure and euphoria
- blood circulation
- our psyche
2.2 The function of the CB2 receptors
CB2 receptors were discovered in 1993. While CB1 receptors are mainly located in the brain, CB2 receptors are distributed throughout the body. They are found in the immune system, i.e. in tonsils, spleen, white blood cells and in the gastrointestinal tract. CB2 receptors can also be detected in the brain, but their occurrence there is significantly lower than that of CB1 receptors.
CB2 receptors are activated in the body by the second endocannabinoid, 2-arachidonoglycerol (2-AG). They are believed to be able to reduce inflammatory processes and pain. Furthermore, activation of the CB2 receptor has a calming effect on us.
3. How do CBD, THC and other hemp components react with the endocannabinoid system?
According to the current scientific research, the cannabinoids of the hemp plant react in different ways with our endocannabinoid system:
Plant-based cannabinoids bind to the receptors CB1 and CB2, influence the formation and degradation of the endogenous cannabinoids and partly enhance or weaken each other at the same time. A pretty complex process, then!
The two most common plant-based cannabinoids, THC and CBD, interact quite differently with the components of ECS. This explains why THC has a psychoactive effect on the body, which CBD does not.
Unlike medical cannabis, the hemp plant contains hardly any THC. Would you like to know more about CBD’s legal status? This way then: CBD legal position.
3.1 The Endocannabinoid System and CBD
In contrast to most cannabinoids, CBD has only a low binding power to the ECS receptors CB1 and CB2 and tends to weaken the effects of other cannabinoids on these receptors. However, it works through various other mechanisms: CBD, for example, binds to the serotonin receptor, so it has a mood-lifting effect.
CBD also inhibits the enzymes that are responsible for the breakdown of our endocannabinoids. Therefore, CBD can for example increase the level of anandamide in the body for a longer time. The special part: anandamide is one of the most important endocannabinoids in the human body. So, CBD aids the natural function of our endocannabinoid system. It is supported by the hemp plant’s other valuable ingredient, the terpenes.
To date, the various effects of CBD on our body have not yet been fully explained, but we keep you up to date with the latest research results on our blog.
3.2 The Endocannabinoid System and THC
As previously mentioned, the hemp plant contains only traces of THC, so we’ll only go over the role of THC briefly.
Unlike CBD, THC binds to the CB1 receptor, which is mainly found in the brain. This explains its psychoactive effect. Psychoactive––this means THC makes us “high.” Since THC also has other positive effects, it’s used in the medical field, for example to treat severe pain.
In the case of over-the-counter products, such as food supplements, a psychoactive effect is of course undesirable, therefore only hemp extracts that do not contain THC may be used for these products.