The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
To make it easier to understand how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) works, we have divided it into three different parts.
- Cannabinoid receptors found on the outside of the body’s cells
- Endocannabinoids that help activate cannabinoid receptors
- Metabolic enzymes that break down endocannabinoids when used
These receptors exist on the outside of the body’s cells and act as a kind of messenger. The cannabinoid receptors “listen” to the chemical compounds that are outside the cell and then check the inside of the cell for what it needs. A constant flow of information, so that the cell feels as good as possible – homeostasis. Are you with us so far? Good.
There are several different cannabinoid receptors, but the two largest and most studied are CB1 and CB2. So, we’ll stick to those two, otherwise things can become a little over complicated.
CB1 receptors are found mostly in the brain and in the central nervous system. CB1 is the cannabinoid receptor that binds with THC and makes you “high”.
The CB2 receptors reside mostly outside the central nervous system, for example in the immune system. In addition to the body’s own endocannabinoids (described below), there are phytocannabinoids, such as CBD, which bind to this receptor and which do not make you “high”.
Endocannabinoids, which are very similar to phytocannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, CBD for example, bind and activate endocannabinoid receptors (those we discussed above). Unlike, for example, CBD that comes from a plant, endocannabinoids are produced naturally in the body’s cells. “Endo” means inside. So basically, internal or inside-the-body-cannabinoids.
There are two major endocannabinoids in the human body. One is anandamide (from the nerd panel: “ananda” means bliss in Sanskrit, cool huh?) and the other is 2-AG. These two endocannabinoids are created from molecules inside the cell walls (the membrane to be correct), depending on whether the cell wants them or not. The cell orders endocannabinoids, and different molecules in the cell membrane create them. Simply put, the endocannabinoids are created when they are needed, and the cells never keeps them “in storage”. The body is pretty clever, isn’t it? On to part three.
Last but definitely not least, we have the body’s metabolic enzymes, whose job it is to quickly get rid of the endocannabinoids as soon as they are used. One enzyme is called FAAH and breaks down anandamide and the other is called MAGL, which breaks down 2-AG. Again, a high five to evolution. Their job is to ensure that all endocannabinoids are used when they are needed but no longer and no more than necessary.
In this case, endocannabinoids differ significantly from, for example, hormones or neurotransmitters that can be stored in the body and used at a later time. Sometimes, unfortunately, the body’s own cannabinoids may struggle a bit because the homeostasis is slightly disturbed due to other factors. The idea is adding external cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) to make these enzymes temporarily stop breaking down the body’s own endocannabinoids, so that the body can regain balance.
The bottom line is that it’s these three parts that make up the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that all work together to keep your fine body in balance. Kinda like the body’s own regulator. So, if the body’s endocannabinoid system works as it should, the body is in balance and feeling good, theoretically. That is why it may be good to sometimes help the body’s own endocannabinoids by adding cannabinoids to your everyday diet. For example, by taking hemp oil or hemp capsules.