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Shop Earthly Body®/Blog/The Endocannabinoid System: A Bridge Between Body and Mind

The Endocannabinoid System: A Bridge Between Body and Mind

Date: June 30, 2021

Medication derived from cannabis is mostly in its R&D phase here in the United States, with the FDA still withholding any approvals as to its supposed therapeutic benefits. However, physicians can override the FDA and still prescribe drugs containing cannabis under the Right to Try Act to their patients, provided they’ve exhausted all other avenues and clinically approved medication.

One may use cannabis or misuse it as it were for several reasons. You see, not all cannabis gets us high, and not all bodies react the same way to its psychoactive compounds. This is because of a system within all animals that interacts with active compounds like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): the endocannabinoid system. (ECS)

Now, you may be thinking about how we could possibly have an exclusive system for deciding how we’d react to cannabis strains like those present in CBD products. Now that, our friends, is a good question, for it requires a deeper understanding of ECS, to which there is definitely more than meets the eye.

Let’s work our way up to it, shall we?

What is ECS?

ECS was first discovered around the early 90s by researchers investigating THC. It soon became apparent that ECS was an independent cell-signaling system that did more than just communicate the effects of a particular strain from cell to cell.

Today, much of ECS has yet to be decoded. However, what we do know is that it is a network of endogenous cannabinoids, enzymes, and cannabinoid receptors that help to regulate essential bodily functions such as memory, appetite, sleep, mood, fertility, and pain.

Two Girls Laughing at Something

Why Is ECS a Bridge Between the Body and Mind?

ECS regulates the functions mentioned above that our mind makes us feel in the first place.

Let’s suppose you break a leg. The part of your body that hurts will communicate this fact to the brain through receptors, which will get back to that part with pain. It all happens in milliseconds, but no one’s died from the sheer pain of breaking a leg yet. You know why? Because your body’s ECS helps to regulate the pain, so it’s within bearable limits.

It can therefore be assumed that there are several bridges running between body and mind, out of which ECS is the one that maintains homeostasis and ensures our bodily functions are working optimally.

How Does ECS Work?

ECS is a network found in all vertebrates and some invertebrates regardless of whether they’re human or not. It’s completed by three key aspects:

  1. Cannabinoid receptors
  2. Enzymes
  3. Endogenous cannabinoids

Now, here comes the part you’ll either love or hate because it’s to do with the molecular biology behind the component of ECS.

1.      Endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids means “inner cannabinoids” because they’re produced within your body whenever the intracellular levels of calcium within brain cells run high.

Two main types of endocannabinoids, namely anandamide (AEA), are often associated with primary embryo development and working memory, and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG), a recurring sight in the central nervous system.

Brown and White Cows at A Dairy Farm

2.      Receptors

Cannabinoid receptors are located on the cell surface and communicate what’s going inside the cell, outside, for a timely and appropriate response.

The way this interaction happens is that specific endogenous cannabinoids bind themselves to a particular receptor to get a specific response. For example, they may bind to receptors located in the nerves responsible for the pain to make it endurable.

CB1, mainly found in the central nervous system, and CB2 situated mostly on immune cells inside our peripheral nervous system were two of the first receptors to be discovered and remain the ones we know best to this very day.

Although they may be found primarily within our nervous system, more of them are spread all over our body.

3.      Enzymes

The metabolic enzymes of the ECS are sort of like a wrap-up crew because they metabolize endogenous cannabinoids as soon as they’ve done their part.

Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) breaks down AEA, whereas monoacylglycerol acid lipase (MAGL) destroys 2-AG. These two enzymes are the most prevalent ones in the ECS.

A Girl Biting into A Chocolate Glazed Donut While Holding a Strawberry Glazed Donut In other Hand

The Known Functions of ECS

All we know so far about ECS is that it goes into action whenever our body’s environment is thrown off or taken for a ride by an external or internal stimulus, like injury, auto-immune disease, and so on.

We know it regulates the following processes:

  • Bone health
  • Appetite
  • Metabolism
  • Relaxation
  • Early embryonic development
  • Pain
  • Mood
  • Working memory
  • Motor control
  • Sleep
  • Stress levels
  • Reproduction and fertility.
  • Cardiovascular functions
  • Immune responses
  • Digestion
  • Muscle health
  • Liver processes
  • Learning
  • Skin processes
  • Nerve processes
  • Carcinogenesis
  • Apoptosis

Plant Cannabinoids and the ECS

Plant cannabinoids are clearly different from the cannabinoids our body produces. You don’t get high when endocannabinoids bind themselves to your receptors, but you do get under the influence when the same is done by a psychotropic cannabis compound, like THC.

Since CBD is not a psychoactive compound like most cannabis derivatives, let’s compare it with THC, the active ingredient of the marijuana plant. In particular, their interaction with our ECS.

  • Interaction Between THC and ECS

When THC enters the human body, it makes its way to the receptors, much like some of our own cannabinoids. However, unlike endocannabinoids, all THC cannabinoids can bind themselves to our known and unknown receptors.

When that happens, our body goes into overdrive, eliciting multiple reactions, one of which is described as “feeling high”. However, reactions do vary, with some documenting pain relief, increase in sexual appetite or hunger, anxiety, and even paranoia.

Therefore, most research with THC focuses on controlling these responses.

  • Interaction Between CBD and ECS

Cannabidiol, which you may know as CBD, has the same molecular components as THC. However, the difference in the molecular arrangement changes the way CBD interacts with our cannabinoid receptors.

While THC binds itself to more receptors than we know of in a way that makes us high, an introduction to CBD doesn’t alters the state of our mind.

We’d be more explicit about the details, except there really isn’t much known or clear about just how CBD interacts with our body. Some researchers have theorized it may work by preventing the enzymes from metabolizing our endocannabinoids, thus keeping them in working condition and doping our body’s performance. Others err on the side of caution by saying it might just be interacting with as yet undiscovered receptors.

A Visibly Distressed Man Holding His Head, and Looking Down

What’s Endocannabinoid Tone?

We depend on our ECS for a number of bodily functions. Our ECS, on the other hand, depends on endocannabinoids to carry them out properly, thus maintaining the endocannabinoid tone.

Many factors affect the number, functionality, and presence of endocannabinoids in our body. These are:

  • Physical activity
  • Diet
  • Stress levels

When we maintain a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle, we produce more endocannabinoids running the ECS that, in turn, are responsible for keeping us physically and mentally healthy. It all comes full circle.

The Debate Surrounding Endocannabinoid Deficiency

An allusion to endocannabinoid deficiency was first made in 2004 by cannabinoid researcher Dr. Ethan Russo. He termed it Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome (CECD). He theorized that a lack of enough endocannabinoids produced by the body might be the underlying cause of fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammation, psoriasis, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, substance abuse, and more.

Russo suggested that if serotonin levels in the body were manipulated and paired with “medicinal” cannabinoids, it might supplement the cannabinoids needed by the ECS to maintain the body’s internal environment. Therefore, this might just make the above conditions go away.

This has, of course, been challenged by many researchers in the field for obvious reasons, one of them being the fact that much of the ECS is shrouded in mystery, and unless the world knows more about it than it doesn’t, theories like Russo’s can remain only be theoretical.

For Argument’s Sake

Even though the theory about endocannabinoid deficiency may have some truth to it, it fails to specify treatment approaches beyond vague references to serotonin and medicinal cannabinoids.

From the previously mentioned components of the ECS, we can assume that Russo and his supporters may be hinting at inhibiting enzymes because they break down endocannabinoids like the bliss molecule AEA, preventing them from staying inside the body for long. That sounds easy enough in theory, except it suggests the way to do it is by readjusting serotonin levels and introducing the human body to Phyto-cannabinoids, such as CBD.

You see, more research needs to be done in order for CBD to be used in a targeted way. While it doesn’t have the psychoactive properties of THC, it does have a similar molecular structure. Therefore, there’s really no guarantee it won’t react in a similar manner when interacting with our ECS.

There’s also the fact that it hasn’t been proved beyond a reasonable doubt that such debilitating conditions are directly correlated to endocannabinoid deficiency. When there’s no clear cause, the effect is nothing more than a hypothesis. If you target your treatment at a hypothetical cause, it may not just fall flat but also misfire.

Woman Wearing a White Top and Skirt Standing In A Wild Field with Both Arms Spread Out

CBD As We Know It

Here’s what we know about CBD so far:

  • It’s the non-psychoactive cousin to THC, having been derived mostly from the hemp plant.
  • Hemp shouldn’t be confused with marijuana because the latter contains CBD with trace amounts of the psychoactive properties typical of THC.
  • So far, the FDA has approved only one CBD-based medication for individuals one and above suffering from epileptic seizures.
  • You need a doctor’s advice in case it interacts with other medicinal drugs or preexisting conditions.
  • CBD body and hair care items can only be touted as wellness products, best used for personal care and relaxation.

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