Many people have heard about the benefits of CBD and the relief it can provide for pain, inflammation, mood, and muscle tension. But few people actually understand how CBD works, or even what the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is. Here’s a breakdown of what the endocannabinoid system is, what it does, and how it interacts with CBD.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is a complex network of receptors, molecules, and enzymes that helps the body maintain homeostasis, or balance.
Endocannabinoids, also known as endogenous cannabinoids, are concentrated throughout your body in the central nervous system, immune system, reproductive system, and peripheral tissues of your body. The endocannabinoids in your brain are responsible for mental and physiological processes, including memory, thoughts, emotion, and motor coordination. Researchers have found that a special signaling system exists between the endocannabinoids in your body and the cannabinoid receptors in CBD and THC (known as phytocannabinoids).
Think of your body as a machine made up of many different moving parts working together. Your brain is like the control center, while your immune system is the defense barrier against invading pathogens. Endocannabinoids are located throughout your body in order to help maintain different body systems, keeping everything in good order.
There are two types of endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are located in your brain and throughout your body. They’re the receptors that interact with THC, the psychoactive compound of cannabis, and make you feel high. CB2 receptors are also in your brain, but are mostly found in your immune system, cardiovascular system, and gastrointestinal system.
How the endocannabinoid system and CBD interact
The phytocannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant are actually very similar to the cannabinoids produced by your own body, which is why they interact so easily with the ECS. Endocannabinoids have been likened to dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter. While dopamine is a part of our nervous system, endocannabinoids are its ECS counterpart.
Studies have shown that when CBD acts upon a CB1 or CB2 receptor, it alters that receptor’s functions. As a result, CBD “improves” what that receptor does for the body. For example, CBD can activate the serotonin receptor, which results in anti-anxiety effects. By interacting with the TRPV1 receptors, it mediates pain, inflammation, and body temperature. Some studies show that CBD limits the effects of THC on the CB1 receptor, which is why some people use it to reduce the unwanted side effects of marijuana.
The most important endocannabinoids that your body produces are called anandamide and 2-AG (2-Arachidonoylglycerol). These endocannabinoids are the so-called “messengers” of the ECS; simply put, they deliver messages to the cannabinoid receptors by binding to them and thus influencing their function. CBD helps your body make more anandamide by inhibiting the FAAH enzyme.
Anandamide can fix itself to the cannabinoid receptors of your brain that manage memory, motivation, superior cognitive processes, and movement control. In this way, anandamide influences physiological systems such as pain, appetite regulation, pleasure, and reward. It’s also responsible for that sense of elation after an exercise and higher levels may help brighten your mood and boost motivation.
The other important endocannabinoid, 2-AG, helps to maintain cardiovascular heart health and keep your emotions in check.
Why phytocannabinoids are important
No matter how well you look after your body, it can break down sometimes. This can be due to any number of things: damage, aging, poor diet, and so on. A breakdown affects every bodily system and can sometimes lead to health issues. It’s the job of your endocannabinoids to maintain the health of your body and keep its various systems in check.
When you’re healthy, all your bodily systems are in balance and functioning as they should. When any one system gets out of balance—for example, there is too much or too little of something—problems develop. In fact, most health issues occur due to imbalances in the body.
Cannabinoids appear to have a finite resource, which means a deficiency can lead to health issues such as headaches, low mood, and other symptoms. If your body is low on cannabinoids, a ‘top up’ with CBD can help restore good health.
The benefits of phytocannabinoids for your body are vast. You can think of CBD as a way to ‘revitalize’ your ECS. It’s a safe and natural way to bring your body systems back into balance and restore homeostasis.
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