The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an extensive biological system comprised of specialized cannabinoid receptors, endogenous lipid-based endocannabinoids, and enzymes responsible for synthesizing and metabolizing the endocannabinoids to maintain a regular supply. All combined, research has now demonstrated that this highly sophisticated, self-regulatory system affects a wide variety of tissues and functions in the human body.

Phytocannabinoids, derived from plants like Cannabis sativa, stimulate the same cannabinoid receptors, eliciting therapeutic effects like pain modulation and relaxation. How the ECS functions is still not completely understood, but as research races to keep up with a burgeoning cannabis industry, scientists are rapidly unraveling the mysteries of this powerful system.

What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

Discovered in the 1990s, the ECS is thought to be one of the most vital and vast receptor systems for sustaining good health. It affects many of our biological processes. Not just for humans, but also for all vertebrate animals, and some invertebrate too.

The system contains cannabinoid receptors, the “locks” and a group of diverse chemical compounds called cannabinoids, the “keys.” The body produces its endogenous cannabinoids, most notably anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).

Endocannabinoids are found in the immune system, the central nervous system, the brain, organs, connective tissue, and glands.

So, where does hemp fit into the picture?

There’s a reason why hemp works so well with the ECS. It has a set of keys to the kingdom! Hemp contains elevated levels of Cannabidiol (CBD), an active phytocannabinoid that works synergistically with other secondary phytocannabinoids and compounds like terpenes and flavonoids.

What does the ECS do?

The primary objective of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis. The word homeostasis comes from the Greek words for the “steady.”  For our purposes, it means providing a state of internal stability necessary for survival, despite fluctuations in our external environment. The ECS is also involved in many physiological processes like appetite, sleep, digestion, mood, memory, metabolism, neuroprotection, hormones, and heart function.

What Are The Locks And Keys?

The ECS has a series of receptors on cells throughout the body designed to accept cannabinoids. There are two main types of receptors, cannabinoid 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid 2 (CB2) that receive three types of cannabinoids:

  • Endocannabinoids – The cannabinoids our body makes
  • Phytocannabinoids – Natural plant cannabinoids
  • Synthetic Cannabinoids – Synthetically created in a lab

CB1 is mostly found in the brain, and also the lungs, kidney, liver, bones, heart, male and female reproductive organs. This receptor is more keyed into tetrahydrocannabinol, the main cannabinoid found in marijuana.

CB2 lives in the immune system, with a significant presence in the spleen as well as the lungs, liver, bone, and muscle.

The Last Piece Of The ECS Puzzle

Metabolic enzymes, FAAH and MAGL, are used by the ECS to accelerate chemical reactions and efficiently break down cannabinoids once they’ve served their purpose.

In Conclusion

Maintaining homeostasis is critical to human health and longevity. The discovery of the Endocannabinoid System has revealed a novel way for practitioners to help their patients maintain homeostasis. By working with patients on an individual basis, it’s now possible to use products containing hemp-derived cannabidiol to elicit specific therapeutic effects. As research on the ECS continues to expand, the future of ECS-targeted therapy is one of the most exciting developments in modern medicine.

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