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How the Endocannabinoid System Works

August 31, 2020

What does the endocannabinoid system do?

In part two of this article series we'll be covering how cannabis works with the endocannabinoid system so you can maximize your health and wellness with the cannabinoids from the low THC hemp plant. The potential of activating this system cannot go understated.

You can read part 1 here.

We’ve got this unique system built inside of us called the ECS that watches the body’s constant struggle between building itself up (anabolism) and breaking itself down (catabolism). When it notices too much of either, it appears, and almost as rapidly disappeared, to nudge us back to normal.

This is a system that doesn’t store up its main components, but creates them when it needs them, on demand. It really is the “ghost in the machine”: largely and almost completely responsible for maintaining balance to the body’s most essential systems that control mood, pain, inflammation, wellness, energy and illness. 

It rapidly shifts its role from maintaining a balance between physical buildup and breakdown to fighting disease and injuries. This leads to a complex interplay of the ECS between the other bodily and brain systems involved in the interaction of endocannabinoids with hormones, endorphins, cytokines, growth factors, pleasure molecules, connective tissue system, bone metabolism, immune cells, cell regeneration, cell inflammation, nerve and glial, and programmed cell death. It goes without saying, the ECS has immeasurable importance, and we are just in the infancy stages of understanding it.

The largest number of CB1 receptors are found in the brain, while CB2 receptors are more numerous in the peripheral body. Regardless of location, AEA and 2-AG activate both the CB1 and CB-2 cannabinoid receptors like lock and key. Anandamide is a crucial cannabinoid.

How do you activate the endocannabinoid system?

You activate the endocannabinoid system with cannabinoids from the cannabis plant, by consuming a cannabinoid-rich variety such as hemp. When CB1 receptors in the brain are unlocked by AEA or 2-AG, the experience of pain relief, mood stabilization, anxiety relief, pleasure and well-being are noticed.

When CB2 receptors throughout the body and peripheral nervous system are unlocked, local anti-inflammatory responses occur. This does far more than alleviate pain, as it has become clear that chronic brain inflammation is involved in Alzheimer’s disease, post traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disorders, cancer and depression. The ECS is a key component in bringing homeostasis.

How do you activate the endocannabinoid system?

While the CB-2 receptors are present in small quantities in the brain, they are present in high quantities throughout the peripheral body, and can be found in all tissue types, but especially within the immune system.

AEA and 2-AG function as activators of the immune system in the peripheral more prominently than as neurotransmitters. AEA and 2-AG activity is largely focused upon stopping inflammation. It also alerts the immune system to the presence of cancer cells, causing them to attack these cells.

Cancer cells have a way of surviving immune system surveillance and destruction by cloaking themselves from detection. The activation of CB2 unmasks this cloaking. CB-2 receptors located on bone-forming cells activate bone formation, when stimulated, reversing osteoporosis.

Activated CB1 receptors have been found to affect the release of other neurotransmitters including norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, histamine, orexin, GABA and endorphins. Because CB1 is mostly found in the autonomic nervous system, they affect many of the automatic functions in the brain and body, which results in the fine tuning of everything from breathing to heart rate to connective tissue health and metabolic rate.

When it comes to health and illness, unlocking CB-1 and CB2 has an incredibly profound effect upon the gut. In 2016, medical research showed that almost all of the major GI response is controlled by endocannabinoids.

CB-1 receptors when activated promote increased blood lipid levels and liver fibrosis, whereas CB-2, upon activation, decrease blood lipid levels, fibrosis and liver inflammation. This is just one example of how these cannabinoids often have opposite effects in the body. Typically, this seems to happen in illness-related conditions rather than normal states.

This opposing behavior is more the norm than the exception, such as in the deterioration of heart health when CB-1 is activated during cardiac disease, whereas CB-2 promotes cardiac health in such a case. Within CB1 receptors, this behavior can also occur in muscle tissue, when activation of CB-1 may either promote or inhibit energy use, leading to muscle formation of destruction.

What is the endocannabinoid system and what is its role?

The endocannabinoid system is the grandmaster that brings balance and order to every other system of physiology inside the body. It both regulates and maintains the health of every function in the human body.

The entire endo-cannabinoid system plays a critical role in male and female fertility, as well as implantation and embryo development. CB-1 and CB-2 receptors are very involved in suppressing skin inflammation and melanoma formation. The activation of CB-1 and CB-2 plays a vital role in how the brain develops in the growing embryo, which also affects the development of nerve cells that produce GABA and slows down excessive activity in the brain.

Why do we have cannabinoid receptors?

Also, CB1 and CB2 receptors are involved in embryonic cognitive development, protection, health and regulation of intellectual function of nerve cells. The ECS is also involved in new nerve cell formation in the adult brain, and the CB-2 receptor is particularly important in this matter. 

Hence, why the endo-cannabinoid system is so largely involved in the regulation of adult neuroplasticity throughout life. CB-1 and CB-2 receptors, in both their complexity and their subtlety, have profound effects upon illness, health and development.

Why do we have cannabinoid receptors?

We have cannabinoid receptors located across the entire body including inside the brain. These receptors act like lock and key to accept cannabinoids produced both by the body and by plants to nourish and restore balance to both the endocannabinoid system and to the body itself.

The various activity of AEA and 2-AG on the CB-1 receptors also affects wellness and disease. AEA is specific to CB-1 receptors and 2-AG to CB2 receptors, but they each activate both receptor types.

These two signaling molecules even regulate each other’s levels in the brain, working together as a close team. In the brain, they not only oppose inflammation but are also involved in the trimming away of old synapses to make way for creation of new ones. 2-AG blocks an animal model of multiple sclerosis and causes bone breakdown and osteoporosis. 

Combined with anandamide (AEA), and the CB1 receptor, 2-AG protects against neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. AEA-blocking CB-1 inside of nerve cells clears beta amyloid and the inflammation it creates to prevent nerve cell death, one of the major processes in Alzheimer’s disease.

Although AEA and 2-AG work on the CB-1 and CB2 receptors, they have been found to also influence the processes in the body that work on these cannabinoid locks. They attach to both glial and nerve cells in the brain and work deeply in the inflammatory system in the body on multiple aspects of inflammation.

AEA and 2-AG also promote sleep and block anxiety. The ECS is tumor suppressing in many types of cancer, including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, liver cancer, prostate cancer, endometrial carcinoma, liver cancer, bone cancer, colon cancer, glioma, non-melanoma skin cancer, glioblastoma, melanoma, leukemia, metastatic cancer, and lymphoid tumors.

The endocannabinoid system also has enzymes that work on the raw material in the body to make AEA and 2-AG and subsequently break them down. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical drugs that completely block these enzymes have had profound negative effects on the body, resulting in symptoms ranging from brain damage to death, which demonstrates the complexity, richness, and importance of the ECS to sustain life.

Unlike the ECS, drugs don’t work in a laser targeted fashion. Their effects tend to be more global, and their activity on this profound system with such far-reaching effects is very risky. As might be predicted, a drug that blocks CB-1 neuromodulation at synapses for the major stimulatory (in the case of glutamate) and inhibitory (in the case of GABA) transmitters throughout the brain would be likely to produce multiple ‘off-target’ effects.

What does the endocannabinoid system do?

The endocannabinoid system is a newly found and vitally important system of physiology that is critical to our survival. It both maintains and restores balance in a multiple of different ways throughout the entire human body, which affects varied issues regarding health and disease.

If disease or injury does occur, the system shifts from one that regulates wellbeing, energy and pleasure, to one that restores balance and normal functioning processes. The system simultaneously targets its actions and is active throughout the body

It is present throughout the body and brain and appears and disappears in a matter of seconds. It affects conditions as varied as multiple forms of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, inflammation, degenerative brain diseases, mood and pain.

Click here if you would like to read part 1 of this 2 part series.

As you can tell from reading this second part of the series, cannabinoids like CBD are crucial to our healthy functioning as people by utilizing this powerful machine inside us to bring more homeostasis and balance. This should be important news for those reading about the potential of the ECS for the first time.

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