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THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM: THE BASICS

By now, most people have at least heard of CBD (short for cannabidiol) and the promise it shows in helping with stress, mood, and pain. While most people have at least heard of CBD, not many have much an idea about how CBD works to bring about these beneficial effects. The truth is that scientists are still trying to figure out the specifics of the “hows” and “whys” of CBD. We do know that, like other cannabinoids such as THC, it works with and through the body’s endocannabinoid system, or the ECS.  This short article will try to give you a little bit of a better understanding of endocannabinoid system and its relationship to CBD. 

THE ENDOCANNIBINOID SYSTEM: WHAT IS IT?

We’re all fairly familiar with some of the body’s physiological systems such as the digestive system, the central nervous system, and the cardiovascular system. Each of these systems comprise various parts and processes that work together to perform some vital physiological function. For example, the digestive system helps metabolize food, which is then converted to energy. The cardiovascular system supplies oxygen to every cell in the body. Because the endocannabinoid system is a relatively recent biological discovery, not many people are familiar with what it is, or its role.   

Basically, the endocannabinoid system is made up of three components: endocannabinoids, which are special chemical compounds synthesized by the body on demand; receptors, which are structures in the nervous system and immune system that bind with endocannabinoids; and enzymes, which break down endocannabinoids when they are no longer needed.

The components of the ECS work together to maintain homeostasis in the body. Any external or internal change in environment stimulates the ECS so it can respond and help bring the body back to “normal operations.”  For instance, if you suffer an injury and feel pain, the ECS kicks into the action by producing endocannabinoids to help regulate the sensation. These endocannabinoids bind to the appropriate receptors in the nervous system to signal pain reduction. But the ECS does more than reduce pain. It has a role in governing processes such as:

  • Metabolism
  • Digestion
  • Appetite
  • Sleep
  • Mood

CBD AND THE ENDOCANNIBINOID SYSTEM

As mentioned above, the body creates its own endocannabinoids to respond to changes in the environment. But cannabinoids can also be found in the natural world. For instance, over 100 cannabinoids can be found in hemp. These are known as phytocannabinoids and they fit into the body’s ECS receptors just as easily as the body’s own endogenous endocannabinoids.

THC is a well-known phytocannabinoid used by some people to produce the pleasurable sensation known as a “high.” CBD, or cannabidiol, on the other hand, does not produce a high when taken, but does play a role in moderating mood, pain, and sleeplessness. While we know that THC binds with ECS receptors, scientist are still not certain how CBD interacts with the ECS to bring about the health benefits associated with it. Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t directly bind with receptors. Instead, it seems to influence receptors ability to bind to endocannabinoids, those produced naturally within the body. Taking CBD, in other words, may a way of helping the body’s ECS work effectively to maintain homeostasis.

The ECS is a complex physiological system, and we only scratched the surface here. Look for more articles in the future addressing new findings about how CBD and the endocannabinoid system can work together to help you feel better.

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