What is the Endocannabinoid System and Why Does it Matter?

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What is the Endocannabinoid System and Why Does it Matter?

Lately, CBD products and medical marijuana are always in the headlines. But, for any of the chatter about hemp or cannabis products to make sense, we need to understand how cannabis works with the body. 

We know that the formulation of over-the-counter medications and prescribed drugs required testing and a scientific process. Research also exists regarding the application and usefulness of herbal and other supplements.

Both cannabis and CBD, whether smoked, taken in oral form, or used topically processes through our systems via the endocannabinoid system or ECS.

What is the ECS?

The endocannabinoid system or ECS exists in all mammals. This fantastic system consists of a series of small acidic endogenous molecules. These molecules referred to as endocannabinoids, consist of arachidonic acid, anandamide, and arachidonoyl glycerol.

The endocannabinoids exist throughout the body in all its organs, muscles, tissues, bones, and blood. The ECS represents the foundation for just about everything that goes on with our body and mind, including the following:

  • Metabolism
  • Digestion
  • Cognitive ability
  • Motor skills
  • Bone growth
  • Muscle formation
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Liver function
  • Reproductive system
  • Sleep
  • Skin 
  • Nerve function
  • Pain and inflammation
  • Mental wellness

On top of managing your body, the ECS manages how each part or system works together.

The endocannabinoid system works at the cellular level by penetrating C1 and C2 receptors to achieve balance or homeostasis. The system or organ needing assistance determines the cellular receptors targeted. 

How Was the ECS Discovered?

The ECS, of course, existed in all mammals before the beginning of time. Amazingly, the discovery of this system did not occur until 1992. So, with a world filled with incredible scientific technology, why did it take so long to learn of the ECS? 

The direct relationship between endocannabinoids and cannabis usage delayed the research that would eventually uncover this vital system. Since cannabis received the label of a schedule one narcotic, research into possible benefits did not receive priority. Ironically, medical research discovered the opiate receptor in the brain in 1973.

Finally, at the St Louis University School of Medicine, Allyn Howell and William Devane began research in the late 1980s to determine that the human brain contains receptors that respond to cannabis. As the research evolved, Raphael Mechoulam isolated the first known cannabinoid referred to as anandamide in 1992. The discovery of THC followed soon after that. As the research involving cannabis developed, the Endocannabinoid System and its function also emerged.

How is the ECS Compromised?

One would think with the goal of homeostasis that the ECS would consistently keep us healthy. The ECS does, however, suffer compromise. The compromise or Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency happens when the body does not synthesize enough endocannabinoids. Unavoidable changes came with age and inherited autoimmune conditions that disrupt the function of the ECS. Possibly more than genetics, a compromised ECS involves poor lifestyle choices. Some of the most harmful practices include smoking and tobacco use, and alcohol, and drug abuse. Additionally, a high-fat and sugary diet lacking in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also does damage. And, then, of course, a sedentary lifestyle or the absence of physical activity adds to the compromise of the ECS. 

Why cannabis helps a compromised ECS:

Though the research in the late 1980s lead to the discovery of the ECS, its original intention involved showing the detriments of cannabis or particularly marijuana use. The study also unveiled why cannabis potentially helps so many ailments.

The cannabis Sativa or cannabis plant possesses a system that mirrors the endocannabinoid system. The photosynthesis system keeps the plant itself healthy. The cannabis plant may contain over a hundred cannabinoids, with cannabidiol or CBD and Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC among the most noted. The ailment or condition requiring assistance determines the cannabinoids chosen and often the method used to provide relief. 

Both hemp and marijuana derive from the cannabis Sativa plant. The significant difference involves the amount of THC. THC represents the cannabinoid with the psychoactive properties most known for its recreational use due to the euphoric high it produces. THC also may contain healing properties. CBD also positively assist an ailing ECS, but without the high or stoned feeling. 

To qualify as hemp, a plant must contain less than .3% of THC. A marijuana plant contains THC levels between .5% and 30% THC. 

Many cannabis strains contain a combination of THC and CBD along with other cannabinoids. Often, the CBD helps to subdue the sometimes unwanted effects of the THC. 

THC binds mostly with C1 receptors that assist with nausea, pain, and anxiety. CBD predominantly binds with C2 receptors that assist with inflammation, digestive disorders, and pain.

Using cannabis to improve your ECS:

Marijuana no longer qualifies as a controlled substance. The legal status of marijuana continues to evolve, but currently, at least eleven states and the District of Columbia allow recreational marijuana usage with regulations. Thirty-three states possess some legislation dealing with medical marijuana. 

CBD and CBD oil, however, derived from mostly the flower of the hemp plant, enjoy legal status throughout the United States. This legal status, along with the absence of psychoactive side-effects, makes CBD a popular choice in alternative healthcare. 

Whether the cannabis makes it into the system by way of smoking, ingesting in an edible or pill, or used topically through massage, it does penetrate at the cellular level and impacts the ECS.

Warnings and things to know:

The best line of defense to maintain a healthy endocannabinoid system involves maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Balanced nutrition, plenty of exercise, and avoiding or minimizing harmful vices will assist in keeping the ECS functioning. 

Cannabis products properly dosed may also help with your ECS. Following the manufacturer’s dosing suggestion represents a good starting point. Dosing should increase incrementally and conservatively. You should present any concerns or questions to a doctor or healthcare professional.  

Pregnant and nursing women should avoid cannabis and products with cannabis. Additionally, those with a propensity to low blood pressure should use marijuana with caution, as it may contribute to lowering blood pressure. 

The medicinal and recreational use of cannabis goes back centuries. Many different cultures documented their merits. With how new the endocannabinoid system has been discovered, more research needs to continue to take place to understand the benefits of assisting the ECS with cannabis. 

Opiates and the suffering associated with it continues to represent a national crisis. Additionally, other prescribed medications and over-the-counter medications come with adverse and even dangerous side-effects. The research surrounding the ECS and cannabis shows promise for combating both physical and mental health problems.

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