If you’re new to the world of CBD oil, you may be asking yourself about the endocannabinoid system (ECS). If it’s the first time you’ve heard the term, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The endocannabinoid system was only discovered twenty years ago and is one of the key reasons CBD and other compounds in the cannabis plant have such an interesting effect on the body. Here is a beginner’s guide to one of the most important systems in the human body – the endocannabinoid system and simple ways to support it.
Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System
Let us begin with how the ECS was first discovered.
It was in the mid 1990s when the renowned Israeli scientist, Raphael Mechoulam, was trying to understand the effects of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. He and his team suspected there were special receptors in the brain and central nervous system that THC activated. They eventually discovered the CB1 endocannabinoid receptor which incidentally is the most abundant neurotransmitter receptor in the brain. Soon after, another type of receptor (CB2) was found in the peripheral nervous system and gut. This scientific breakthrough led to the question – if the body has all these receptors, it must be able to produce its own cannabis-like chemicals.
And they were right. Scientists now know there are two endocannabinoids; endogenous cannabinoids (endo meaning to describe cannabinoids produced by our bodies, these can be found in breast milk). Also, Anandamide named after the Sanskrit word for bliss, Ananda and 2-AG.
Role of the Endocannabinoid System
The complex puzzle of understanding the full extent of the role of the ECS was far from complete. Next scientists had to find the purpose of this vast communication network spread throughout our body. What they realised was that the endocannabinoid system, as they named it, brings balance across all of the physiological systems in the body. It does this by acting as a kind of dimmer switch. So if there is too much or too little activity in the body, the ECS receptors signal for activity to be changed in order to bring homeostasis again.
Researchers now know that the endocannabinoid system is involved in regulating pretty much every biological function; everything from sleep, appetite, mood, the immune system, cell growth, memory, reproduction, and even sexual arousal.
The fact that the ECS is so crucial to regulating our health, should make it widely known by the medical profession. Unfortunately, because it has been so intrinsically linked to cannabis, very few medical schools include the study of ECS in their syllabus. Meaning that an important diagnostic and therapeutic tool is being completely ignored.
In every disease state some endocannabinoid activity can be observed. This can be an indication of the endocannabinoid system doing its job, but sometimes can also indicate an imbalance.
What happens if our Endocannabinoid System is out of balance?
It’s widely understood that in order for our bodies to heal themselves, they must be in a state of homeostasis or balance. So it’s easy to recognise, that if the biological system central to keeping us on an even keel gets out of balance, symptoms of disease may follow.
So far scientists view this endocannabinoid imbalance more in terms of endocannabinoid deficiency, a term coined by Physician, Neurologist and Cannabinoid Researcher, Ethan Russo, MD. In an interview with Project CBD he describes how: “If you don’t have enough endocannabinoids you have pain where there shouldn’t be pain. You would be sick, meaning nauseated. You would have a lowered seizure threshold. And just a whole litany of other problems.”
In particular, Dr Russo, highlights health conditions that share an excessive sensitivity to pain like fibromyalgia, IBS, migraines and MS as occurring due to endocannabinoid deficiency. Sadly, until now this hasn’t been acknowledged as a possibility by the general medical profession. Russo suggests supplementing the endocannabinoid system with cannabinoids such as CBD in order to bring the ECS back into balance again, thus allowing it to perform its vital role of keeping us well and healthy.
It’s not just endocannabinoid deficiency that has been associated to these auto-immune conditions. Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as eating junk food can actually cause too much endocannabinoid activity which is linked to metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
The Endocannabinoid System and CBD
The relationship between CBD and the endocannabinoid system is very different to that of the ECS and THC. The fact that CBD isn’t psychoactive gives us a clue to why. Although CBD does not directly activate either the CB1 or CB2 receptors. Scientists now know that administering CBD increases levels of the bliss endocannabinoid, anandamide. It does this by blocking the enzyme responsible for breaking anandamide down (Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase), which in effect means that anandamide remains in our system for longer. This is why Dr Russo concludes that CBD can increase endocannabinoid tone.
What can I do to take care of my Endocannabinoid System?
There are many reasons our ECS can get out of balance; poor diet, lack of sleep and stress are primary causes. At Amma Life we believe first and foremost in creating the optimum environment for healing in our body by focussing on self-care, good nutrition and by reducing stress in our lives. Essential fatty acids can also boost the ECS.
Taking a quality, whole plant CBD oil is a great way to give your endocannabinoid system some regular TLC. If you believe you are endocannabinoid deficient, boosting your ECS through regular CBD supplementation can help to optimise your health, giving your body a chance to recalibrate once again.
Awareness is growing about the importance of maintaining a robust endocannabinoid system. The best changes to create a healthy lifestyle are to keep stress levels to a minimum, move our bodies regularly, eat healthily, do something spontaneous and fun from time-to-time, and of course choose cannabis derived supplements with quality, whole plant CBD.