The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signalling system identified in the early 1990s by researchers exploring THC, a well-known cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis.
Experts are still trying to fully understand the ECS. But so far, we know it plays role in regulating a range of functions and processes, including, but not limited to:
The ECS exists and is active in your body even if you don’t use cannabis.
The ECS involves three core components: Endocannabinoids, Receptors, and Enzymes.
There are two key Endocannabinoids - anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). These help maintain and keep internal functions running smoothly.
There are two main Endocannabinoid Receptors: CB1, which are mostly found in the central nervous system and CB2, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells. Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor (which are found throughout your body) in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action.
Enzymes are responsible for breaking down Endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function. There are two main enzymes responsible for this, fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the main cannabinoids found in cannabis. It’s the compound that gets you “high.” Once in your body, THC interacts with your ECS by binding to receptors, just like endocannabinoids. It’s powerful partly because it can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
A major cannabinoid found in cannabis is cannabidiol (CBD). Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t make you “high” and typically doesn’t cause any negative effects. Experts aren’t completely sure how CBD interacts with the ECS. But they do know that it doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors the way THC does.
Many believe it works by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down. This allows them to have more of an effect on your body. Others believe that CBD binds to a receptor that hasn’t been discovered yet. While the details of how it works are still under debate, research suggests that CBD can help with pain, nausea, and other symptoms associated with multiple conditions.
The endocannabinoid plays important roles in your body well beyond the process it's named for, which is interacting with cannabis, also known as marijuana. Did you know we have a whole system named after pot? We do, because the substances that come from the marijuana plant—cannabinoids—were discovered first.
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