The endocannabinoid system
Understanding how your body achieves homeostasis.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an integral role in the orchestration, maintenance and balance of optimal health and healing – also known as homeostasis. Although the endocannabinoid system has been in existence for over 600 million years and can be found in all animals except insects, it was only identified as a separate system in 1988. While attempting to elicit the mode of action of psychoactive THC, research scientists discovered a sophisticated cell-signaling system triggered by the compound, naming it the “endo” cannabinoid system after the cannabis plant that inspired its discovery. A strong endocannabinoid system likely supports a variety of basic needs in the human body.
The ECS may be activated by endocannabinoids produced naturally in your body, or by phytocannabinoids (plant-based cannabinoids) that mimic those produced in your body. These cannabinoids fit like a lock and key into receptor sites (CB1 and CB2 receptors) and may release an intricate cascade of neurotransmitters that communicate vital information, to cells, tissues, organs and glands, that is critical to maintaining optimal health and homeostasis.
CB1 receptors are located in the central nervous system, and they mediate many of the psychoactive effects of cannabinoids such as THC. CB2 receptors have a more restricted distribution, and are found mostly in immune cells and the stem cells that produce blood cells. The expression of these receptors, meaning the overall number of receptors in the endocannabinoid system, differs from patient to patient. One patient may have more CB1 receptors than another, changing the way their bodies experience the effects of cannabinoids.
Supporting the endocannabinoid system is likely a key strategy for dealing with issues related to sleep. Lack of sleep is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Not getting enough quality sleep is also associated with increased inflammation and reduced immunity, which is a dangerous combination that can profoundly and negatively impact health on many levels. The ECS regulates the proper function of a wide range of body processes, so, not surprisingly, it has also been found to help regulate sleep-wake cycles and promote more consistent sleep.
Symptoms of stress include headaches, upset stomach, chest pains/rapid heartbeat, sleep issues, fatigue, loss of appetite, increased frequency of colds, dry mouth, irritability, anxiety and memory problems. For adult sufferers of stress, supporting the body’s endocannabinoid system may be an ideal way to better handle stress and all its symptoms. When the ECS is prioritized, homeostasis – the body’s optimal level of health and maintenance – is also supported, encouraging better responses to stress, fear and anxiety.
A sophisticated collaboration of cells and physiological processes that help establish and maintain optimal health, the endocannabinoid system may also be intricately involved in balancing neurotransmitters that influence pain and inflammation. The body’s ability to have a healthy response to pain and inflammation can be supported by positively influencing endocannabinoid receptors and the production and retention of endocannabinoids.
In today’s fast-paced world, it can be difficult to consistently be in a good mood. Whether it’s due to work demands, congested traffic and long commutes or one of many other daily pressures, nerves can become frayed to the point where it’s difficult to feel happy all the time. Numerous studies have shown that people who feel happy not only experience less depression and anxiety, but also are generally healthier. The good news is that a healthy endocannabinoid system may help elevate mood naturally by supporting the balance of neurotransmitters that influence mood and brain function.
The human brain is incredibly complex. While scientists are still uncovering key facts about brain function, they now know the human brain contains about 100 billion cells. These cells, called neurons, fire about 200 times per second. The brain – along with the spine – is powered by the central nervous system, which, in turn, is guided by the ECS. Supporting the ECS early may be a first step toward protecting and preserving brain health.