What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is an integral part of our physiology as humans. It helps us maintain homeostasis, or balance, in our bodies by communicating with other biological systems.
The ECS has beneficial effects on many physical conditions because of its unique communication method (which we’ll get to later). These beneficial effects can be placed in two categories: the first is to help the body heal itself in the face of injury and disease, and the second is to modulate pleasure, energy and well-being. If the endocannabinoid system remains strong, it can help other systems stay healthy, fight disease and communicate smoothly.
The endocannabinoid system was discovered in the mid-1990s by Israeli researcher Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. Dr. Mechoulam’s world-changing research discovered two main receptors, CB1 and CB2. Since that pivotal moment, there has been a substantial amount of research done to understand just how the ECS works. While it’s quite complex, the Endocannabinoid System can be grouped into three main parts:
- Internally produced endocannabinoids – called Anandamide and 2-AG
- Receptors that receive their signals – called CB1 and CB2
- Enzymes that build and recycle these endocannabinoids
The ECS operates through what is known as retrograde signaling. While most other biological systems send their chemical signals from presynaptic (sending) nerves to postsynaptic (receiving) nerves, endocannabinoids travel backwards across the nerve synapse. This unique quality allows endocannabinoids, which can be found throughout the body, to modulate the sending of other signals on demand.
In other words, every part of the body is producing cannabis-like compounds, all the time, and these compounds are being used to balance out biological function! This reality, which was discovered not much more than twenty years ago, has huge health implications.
In an ideal world, the ECS would function perfectly. Our endocannabinoids would be produced in accordance with their receptor’s demands, and receptors would maintain sensitivity in the areas needed most, retaining their ability to maintain homeostasis.
Like anything else in the body, though, the ECS can develop imbalances of its own. Enzymes may not produce enough endocannabinoids, or they may break down existing cannabinoids too quickly. When the endocannabinoid system becomes imbalanced, its regulatory ability is dampened and widespread dysregulation can result. This loss of control, in turn, can present itself as many of the chronic diseases we are familiar with today.
This is where the importance of Hemp comes in. Some hemp cannabinoids gently regulate the Endocannabinoid System through a variety of mechanisms – including balancing out ECS enzymes and allowing endocannabinoids like anandamide to remain active where they’re needed. By communicating with the Endocannabinoid System’s CB1 and CB2 receptors, hemp oil and its cannabinoids assist the Endocannabinoid System in maintaining homeostasis.