It's been compared to all sorts of things. It's been said to help us maintain homeostasis. It's even been called one of the greatest medical discoveries of the 20th century.
What are we talking about? The Endocannabinoid System, of course!
Chances are you've already heard the name of this complex-sounding system thrown around. Oftentimes its mention goes hand in hand with talks of CBD...and it's true the two are, in a very real sense, closely related.
But do you know how CBD and the endocannabinoid system are linked? If not, don't worry - that's exactly what we'll be addressing in this article.
Chances are also good you're familiar with some of CBD's potential health benefits. In the past we've written about CBD's potential promise for relieving pain, anxiety, sleep problems, the symptoms of fibromyalgia, etc.
But have you ever wondered what ties it all together - what makes CBD such a universally useful supplement? It's a valid question to ask. While supplements are normally intended to address one or two specific health challenges (melatonin for sleep, vitamin C for sickness), CBD exists within a different paradigm altogether.
And the answer to CBD's universal appeal isn't really found within CBD itself. Molecular analysis of CBD shows that it's...kind of unremarkable!
CBD's real power lies within its ability to activate - you guessed it - the endocannabinoid system.
Interestingly enough, this system existed in humans long before we started growing hemp and ingesting CBD, and in a happy twist of fate/evolution/divine intervention ended up finding a very fulfilling fuel source in the compounds found in hemp…
The Endocannabinoid System, 101
So, what is the endocannabinoid system?
It might just be your body's internal thermostat.
Except for the fact that most thermostats are only good at one thing - maintaining a steady temperature within the house. By keeping a very basic awareness of internal conditions, they're able to gauge how much heat output is needed in real-time.
The ECS, on the other hand, does much more than that. It also operates in real time and remains aware of internal conditions. But it also exerts awareness over what's going on externally (outside the body)...and it even encourages communication between different parts of the body, within itself.
The endocannabinoid system is both a bridge between the outside and the inside...and a bridge between the body and mind. So if you want to think of it as a thermostat, great! Just realize that it's a much more multidimensional thermostat than most.
So, what does the ECS actually regulate? While science may take a while to follow answer that one, evidence points to things like:
- And much more…
Experts like Professor Di Marzo have described its main functions as “relax, eat, sleep, forget, and protect.” Sounds pretty good, right? With a healthy ECS, no wine required!
How does the ECS accomplish all this? Another good question. We'll begin the answer by looking at the system's structure. It has 3 main parts:
- Endocannabinoids | eCB's: (messenger molecules produced by cells)
- Endocannabinoid Receptors: (cellular structures that receive messages)
- Endocannabinoid Enzymes: (enzymes that build and break down eCB's)
It's basically a closed-loop, self-fulfilling system. Endocannabinoids feed their receptors, sending important messages as they do...and enzymes ensure that endocannabinoid levels stay high so that said messages can flow. When all three parts of the ECS are working in tandem, the body can stay resonating with itself.
Bliss On The Brain
But let's get more specific. What do all these endocannabinoid-induced messages actually do for the mind?
For one, they play a role in regulating its electrical activity! That may not seem like a huge deal, but consider what happens when electrical neurons misfire: epilepsy. By keeping the brain's circuitry under control, endocannabinoids ‘work backward' to promote information processing and even perception itself. Indeed, people who take CBD (whether neurotypical or not) report these sorts of effects.
And thankfully there's more than one way to attain all the benefits of endocannabinoid heaven. One can use CBD consistently, of course...but evidence shows that exercise and lifestyle changes are also effective.
Take the well-known phenomena we know and love as runner's high, for example. Did you know it may be caused by endocannabinoids, especially one called anandamide? It's true, which means that regular exercise may actually chemically alter the mind enough to provide a radically better mood!
Certain foods may help strengthen the endocannabinoid system, too, especially seafood. That's because endocannabinoids are made out of fat - omega 3 and 6 fatty acids in particular. If you're not feeling quite up to par, it might be worth examing your diet and making sure you're getting enough of these essential fatty acids. Your endocannabinoid system will thank you...and if you're taking CBD it might just work better.
Bliss In The Body
The endocannabinoid system is very active within the rest of the body, too. Indeed, its receptor networks can be found virtually everywhere - they're woven into the very fiber of our being.
And it's only fitting that the ECS receptors found in muscle cells and organs are very different than the ones found in the mind. While the brain's receptors are very sensitive to THC, the ones found elsewhere seem to prefer CBD and a select number of terpenes. No wonder so many people love CBD for its gentle full-body effects!
But these peripheral receptors find a fuel source in other areas, too. Endocannabinoid production actually varies from one place to the next depending on the body's overall need.
For example, a person with IBS will tend to have higher endocannabinoid levels in their digestive tract. Those eCB's are there for a reason - they're trying to pull things back into balance! If all else fails, one of the best things to do is supplement with some CBD. The plant compound has been shown in more than a few studies to powerfully boost endocannabinoid levels. Think of it as the perfect natural safeguard.
CBD: One Means To An End
But CBD isn't an end goal in and of itself. The end goal is endocannabinoid system health - from there everything else tends to work out perfectly. Optimize your ECS and chances are your whole body will find its way back to balance.
Even then, taking CBD oil sure is a great way to get there. Just make sure you do your part by eating right, exercising, sleeping enough, and enjoying life.
Thomas Wrona is a cannabis consultant, health + wellness advisor, and former professional athlete. He enjoys writing about all things CBD, both here and at Wrona Inc.