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The Endocannabinoid System
To understand the benefits of hemp and CBD it is helpful to know a little bit about the Endocannabinoid System, or “ECS.” Everyone is equipped with an ECS. In fact, the system is critical in maintaining homeostasis, one of the most important facets of human survival. The biological relationship between the ECS and cannabis compounds is the backbone of everything from therapeutic cannabis applications to the good ole-fashioned munchies, so if you’ve ever wondered how CBD works, now is your moment.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
Long before Snoop Dogg was rollin’ down the street, endo (endogenous) cannabinoids (cannabis compounds) existed naturally in human physiology. Endocannabinoids are small, naturally produced, fat-like molecules within the human body that help maintain homeostasis. Mimicking plant cannabinoids, endocannabinoids bind and activate cannabinoid receptors on the surface of cells, which then relay information about external conditions to the inside of the cell, engaging its self-regulating mechanism. That’s a mouthful of Bill Nye stuff, so let’s break it down into normal people terms.
Homeostasis is your cells’ way of precisely regulating the internal conditions needed to keep your body happy. There is a narrow range of conditions within which your body can function, and homeostasis keeps you within that ideal range. Think of your body like a hot tub – homeostasis makes sure the water is not too hot, and not too cold, but juuuuuust right. Using external signals, it keeps things like blood sugar and body temperature in check, providing the internal regulation necessary for your body’s survival. Homeostasis is a series of gauges, all working to maintain the body’s stability.
The endocannabinoid system comes into play when the hot tub gets too hot or too cold. When you stick your toes in a hot tub that feels like molten lava, the ECS is standing right there with a bucket of ice for your Kentucky fried piggies. Think of the ECS as a trusty sidekick – the Robin to homeostasis’s Batman.
The ECS has three parts, working harmoniously to maintain homeostasis:
1. Endocannabinoids, molecules which bond with the receptors and tell them to activate the Bat signal
2. Receptors, which sit on the surface of the cell, then activate the Bat signal inside the cell once the endocannabinoids and cannabinoids tell them it’s time
3. Enzymes, which break down the endocannabinoids and cannabinoids when Batman is tired of their sh*t
This is obviously an oversimplified explanation of an incredibly complex system, but the main takeaway is this: Homeostasis is an absolute necessity, without which the body could not self-regulate at the level required to sustain human life. The ECS plays a big role in maintaining homeostasis and is therefore a biological system of crucial importance. Hot tubs are awesome.
The Endocannabinoid System & CBD
Cannabis plants contain dozens of different naturally occurring compounds called “cannabinoids.” Cannabinoids can be extracted from cannabis plants for human usage, but the ratio of cannabinoids within each species of cannabis plant, as well as their respective effects on the human body, vary dramatically. Two of the most widely known compounds found in plants of the Cannabis genus are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its non-intoxicating cousin, Cannabidiol (CBD).
Scientific research into the medicinal properties of CBD is ongoing, but evidence supporting CBD’s effectiveness in treating certain ailments is steadily accruing with time. Specifically, CBD has been found to have therapeutic value in the treatment of anxiety, depression, pain, seizure disorders, insomnia, and more. Researchers theorize that one of the ways in which CBD works is by interacting with…wait for it…the body’s endocannabinoid system!
When someone ingests a plant cannabinoid, such as CBD, it stimulates the body’s own naturally occurring endocannabinoids. The cannabinoid will give the ECS a kick in the pants when needed, prompting endocannabinoids to attach to a receptor, rectify internal dysregulations, or adjust the system’s release of enzymes. Take CBD’s anti-anxiety properties for example: Research has established that one important function of CBD within the brain involves the speed at which the FAAH enzyme breaks down Anandamide, an endocannabinoid that has a calming effect on human mood. CBD stops the enzyme from completing the breakdown process, enabling the calming Anandamide to linger in the system for a more powerful impact.
There is still a great deal science needs to learn about the ECS, CBD, and the role of cannabis in the nervous system. However, empirical evidence has proven CBD to be a versatile, safe, user-friendly compound capable of immense therapeutic value. As our knowledge of endocannabinoids and cannabinoids deepens, so too will the breadth and scope of CBD’s contributions to human health.
Dellwo, Adrienne. Medically reviewed by Sweigard, Jenny, MD. What Is the Endocannabinoid System?. Verywell Health. 10 February 2020.
Jikomes, Nick. What Is the Endocannabinoid System and What Is Its Role?. Leafly. Last visited 19 February 2020.
Raypole, Crystal. Medically reviewed by Carter, Alan, PharmD. A Simple Guide to the Endocannabinoid System. Healthline. 17 May 2019.
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