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How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?

The Endocannabionoid System (ECS) has gotten considerable exposure in recent years as medical marijuana and CBD has gained increased interest from the public.  Many people take CBD after hearing how it helped a friend or family member and find great results.  But how does it work?  What is CBD doing inside your body to provide the relief it does?  In today’s post, the goal is to break down what the ECS is and how it works with CBD to benefit you.

ECS Discovery

In 1988 the first cannabinoid receptor was discovered in the brain of rat.  Then in 1990 researchers successfully mapped the DNA sequence that encodes a cannabinoid receptor in the brain.  A short time later, researchers discovered a second cannabinoid receptor as part of the immune and nervous systems.  These two receptors became known as CB1 and CB2 and form the basis for how cannabinoids work within the ECS.

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are compounds that act as chemical messengers for the ECS.  There are over 100 known cannabinoids, but all fall under two categories: endogenous and exogenous.

Endogenous cannabinoids are known as endocannabinoids and are produced naturally inside the body.  They interact with cannabinoid receptors to regulate common functions like memory, pain, sleep and mood.

Exogenous cannabinoids originate outside of the body.  These are mainly phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids from plants) like CBD.  When administered, they interact with your body’s natural cannabinoid receptors to produce physical and physiological effects.

Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabinoid receptors are message receivers. Messages are sent via cannabinoids.  Messages are received when the cannabinoids bind to the receptor site.  The two receptors in the ECS are CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors are most commonly found in the brain, although they are present in other parts of the body too.  They are in the parts of the brains associated with the behaviors they influence.

CB2 receptors are located in the nervous and immune systems.  When activated, they work to reduce inflammation.  Inflammation is known to be a major contributor in many diseases and medical conditions.

How Does It Work?

An easy way to think about how cannabinoids and receptors work is as a lock and key mechanism.  The cannabinoid receptor is the lock.  The cannabinoid is the key.  When you take a cannabinoid, in this case CBD, you’re providing your body with the key that fits the lock.  This promotes homeostasis within your body as the cannabinoid benefits take effect.

CBD can also work indirectly.  Instead of binding to either the CB1 or CB2 receptors in the body, CBD research suggests it inhibits an enzyme called FAAH.  FAAH is responsible for the breakdown of ananadamide, the most important endocannabinoid in the body.  When FAAH cannot break down anandamide, it leads to an increased buildup of anandamide in the body.  CBD thus works to boost your body’s ability to  produce endocannabinoids, which is believed to be the source of the health benefits experienced from CBD.

Role of the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system is involved in regulating many basic bodily functions including mood, appetite, sleep, inflammation, neuroprotection and digestion among others.  The two main endocannabinoids scientist have discovered are anandamide, found in higher concentrations outside the brain and 2-AG, found in higher concentrations in the brain.

Endocannabinoids are synthesized on demand, meaning they are only produced when the body signals they are needed.  When your body is out of balance, signals are sent to produce endocannabinoids to restore your bodies equilibrium.  Disease is largely due to failure to achieve homeostasis.  Thus, the ECS’s role in promoting homeostasis makes it a key bodily system in achieving optimal health.

Going Forward

The endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in many bodily processes and holds tremendous promise as more research continues to be done.  Because of its role in promoting balance in the human body, it’s not surprising that cannabinoids like CBD have wide ranging reported benefits. 

It also makes sense as to why some people find CBD helps for certain conditions and others do not.  Each person’s body is different and needs to be brought into balance in different ways.  But more importantly, the discovery of the ECS proves that CBD is not magic or only a placebo.  It works with the ECS in a scientifically proven way to promote wellness where your body needs it most.

Read More: How Does CBD Improve Sleep?

Golden Legacy CBD Owner

We are Jason and Hannah,

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