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What Is The Endocannabinoid System? (ECS)

October 02, 2019

What Is The Endocannabinoid System? (ECS)

Not long ago, Dr. Dustin Sulak did an article for NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) that discussed the human endocannabinoid system in simple, easy to understand terms.

In it, he described the ways in which plant-based cannabinoids (called phytocannabinoids) interact with naturally-occurring receptors in our bodies to regulate and maintain an astonishingly wide range of bodily functions. So many things, he said, seem to be in some way connected to this vast internal molecular system that each and every one of us has.

And not just us as humans; Dr. Sulak also mentioned that every living vertebrate animal – from horses and dogs to “sea squirts and nematodes” – also has this ECS system which responds to the active molecular compounds in cannabis.

How is this possible? How is it that nearly every living thing on earth has an innate molecular system that governs virtually all aspects of health, homeostasis, survival, and reproduction? And how is it that this system can be so influenced and manipulated by natural compounds in the cannabis plant?

Well, as it turns out, natural cannabis compounds have a near-identical chemical structure as the human compounds (specifically anandamide and 2-AG) that govern the endocannabinoid system.

For this reason, Dr. Sulak has described the ECS as “perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health,” and has illustrated it as a potential bridge between body and mind that oversees molecular actions on our organs, cells, nerves, and immune system, among many other things.

The Importance of Cannabinoid Receptors in the Endocannabinoid System

Cannabinoid receptors have been found in virtually every cell and tissue type in the human body. In fact, some researchers believe they may be the most prominent and abundant receptor in humans. They are located in the membranes of various cell types, and when they’re activated, they can “stimulate” cells to carry out dozens – if not hundreds or thousands – of different responses.

Cannabinoid receptors have been found for example throughout our nervous system, glands, connective tissues, organs, immune system, and reproductive systems. Under “healthy” conditions, the receptors are stimulated by the aforementioned endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG, which are produced naturally by the body.

If/when there is a deficiency in the production or functioning of these compounds (a condition known as endocannabinoid deficiency), the receptors are unable to be stimulated, and thus the cells and corresponding organs are not able to function properly or maintain homeostasis (balance) throughout the body.

This is where phytocannabinoids from the cannabis plant can come in.

In the event of a deficiency or malfunctioning of the human compounds anandamide or 2-AG, plant-based cannabinoids may be able to effectively “take their place” and stimulate the cannabinoid receptors on their own, thereby allowing cells to carry out their specific functions and return the body back to a relative state of homeostasis.

Moreover, what’s so incredible about these cannabinoid compounds and their receptors is their “multi-function” capabilities. In other words, they appear to be able to “instruct” the cell to carry out a number of different functions, depending on what exactly the body needs to return to a state of balance.

How the Endocannabinoid System Works as a “Bridge” Between Mind and Body

In addition to the seemingly “straightforward” physiologic effects that they have on our cellular receptors, Dr. Sulak also suggests that cannabinoids can play a crucial role in much larger social and environmental scales.

For example, he believes natural cannabis compounds have the ability to alter our relationship with the environment around us, and allow us to adapt in a positive way to the myriad of changes (whether physical, emotional, etc) that we face on a day-to-day basis.

“Socially,” he says, “the administration of cannabinoids clearly alters human behavior, often promoting sharing, humor, and creativity.”

These changes, in combination with the ability of cannabinoids to promote the growth and development of new nerve cells, may improve our open-mindedness and allow us to transcend “limiting patterns of thought and behavior” – a crucial step in maintaining total body/mind health in a perpetually changing environment.

In this way, we begin to understand from a scientific perspective how cannabis in general – may truly be a molecular bridge between body and mind.


[We encourage you to pledge your support to the NZ Hemp Foundation, Submit your feedback to the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme public consultation document on or before 7th August 2019 and contact your local MP and tell them how ridiculous it is that people don’t have unrestricted access to all derivatives of hemp here in New Zealand]

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