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Endocannabinoid System: How Does It Work (Easy to Understand)

Dr. Saira Zulfiqar, PharmD

Written by: Dr. Saira Zulfiqar, PharmD

Updated on December 30, 2023

Endocannabinoid System

In our body, the endocannabinoid system is a fascinating and crucial component of our biology. It plays a vital role in maintaining the balance in our body. In this brief, we will take a detailed look at the origins, intricate workings, and overall functions of the endocannabinoid system in the human body. By the time we are done scribbling these lines, you will be familiar with the basics of this complex system and the significance it holds in the context of our well-being.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system in the body is one of the most complex cell signaling systems. This system was discovered relatively recently when compared against different discoveries in the realm of medical research. In the early 1990s, scientists who were investigating the effects of cannabis by chance stumbled upon this signaling system. They discovered that this intricate network of receptors and signaling molecules was responsible for many of the functions in the human body. The endocannabinoid system exists in all vertebrates, which signifies its evolutionary importance. There are three main components of the endocannabinoid system. These include the endocannabinoids, receptors such as CB1 and CB2 receptors, and enzymes responsible for the synthesis and degradation of different components. The ECS serves as a regulator; it ensures balance and stability in the various physiological processes that take place in our body daily.

How Does Endocannabinoids System Work?

To understand the proper functioning of the endocannabinoid system, it is important to break down the three key components and discuss them one by one. Understanding how these elements interact is pivotal to appreciating the role of the internal system in maintaining homeostasis in the human body. For a visual guide, consider watching these informative YouTube videos

Endocannabinoids, receptor (CB1, CB2), enzymes – (Key Components of the ECS)

Endocannabinoids

At the heart of the endocannabinoid system are, of course, the endocannabinoids themselves. These are intricate molecules that are crafted by the body. Their main purpose is maintaining psychological and physiological balance. There are two key endocannabinoids in this discussion. These are anandamide and 2-arachidonylglycerol (2-AG). These endocannabinoids hold massive importance in the context of the human body’s changing needs. Anandamide is known as the bliss molecule; it is important in mood regulation, reward processing, and maintaining overall emotional well-being. The molecule acts as a neuromodulator and plays its role in fine-tuning neural communication. In tandem, the 2-AG molecule regulates immune responses, inflammation, and neural plasticity. Often, the 2-AG molecule is synthesized on demand, highlighting its importance in meeting physiological demands.

Receptors

The endocannabinoid systems receptor ensemble compromises CB1 and CB2 receptors. These are strategically distributed in the human body. Each of these receptors has its own unique domain of influence. The CB1 receptors are very important when we discuss the central nervous system. They are mostly found in the brain and spinal cord region. The prevalence of these receptors in the neural command setters makes them very important players in regulating mood, memory, and pain perception. Similarly, CB2 receptors have their own importance. They dominate the peripheral regions and the immune cells. Their reach in modulating immune responses and maintaining mistresses in the various body systems is immense. As the endocannabinoids engage with the receptors, cell signaling events start. This dictates the tempo of physiological function. The following events include the modulation of neurotransmitter release, mood and cognition regulation, and the regulation of the regulation of immune responses.

Enzymes

Enzymes can be thought of as the molecular architects within the endocannabinoid system. They govern the synthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids as well as meticulously maintain the delicate balance. The fatty acid amide hydrolase, an enzyme in endocannabinoid metabolism, is of crucial importance in this context. This enzyme diligently deconstructs anandamide, thereby ensuring that it does not linger excessively and disrupt normal neural signaling. This is an important event in the context of overstimulation of CB1 receptors. Otherwise, desensitization can happen. Similarly, the monoacylglycerol lipase also takes the lead in dismantling the other important endocannabinoids, such as 2-AG. This contributes to the controlled release of the endocannabinoid. This intricate enzymatic ballet safeguards against potential imbalances in the endocannabinoid system. The symphony of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes, when understood well, illuminates the nuanced dance of the endocannabinoid system.

How does the ECS regulate homeostasis?

Homeostasis is defined as the human body’s ability to maintain its internal stability, as well as balance, despite external fluctuation. The endocannabinoid system is one of the most important players in maintaining homeostasis; its role is often under-discussed. The endocannabinoid system regulates a number of processes to ensure equilibrium. From controlling appetite to maintaining a proper sleep-wake cycle, from maintaining immune responses to influencing mood, the endocannabinoid system has its own importance in the landscape of human body systems. Because the endocannabinoid system has the ability to fine-tune the activity of neurotransmitters, as well as modulate their release, it ensures that the human body is operating within the optimal parameters. If over-sensitization or desensitization events take place, the fluctuations are felt by the human body at a very tangible level. Hence, the endocannabinoid system regulation of homeostasis is an important aspect that must not be ignored

How Does THC Affect the Endocannabinoids System?

Now, let us have a look at how different cannabinoids affect the endocannabinoid system. Let us take the example of tetrahydrocannabinol. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or to use its short form, THC happens to be one of the most famous cannabinoids in the cannabis real. It is a psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. It interacts with the endocannabinoid system by binding primarily to the CB1 receptor. Courtesy of this interaction: Courtesy of this interaction, the cycle of tropic effects cannot be primarily used or felt by the human body. THC has the ability to temporarily enhance mode as well as alter perception. But, if the CB1 receptor is over-activated, side effects such as anxiety or impaired cognition can also be felt. THC dosage is a major conundrum in this context. One must be very careful when using THC; otherwise, using THC otherwise, these side effects can be felt to their fullest. Understanding the impact of THC on ECS gives us an insight into the therapeutic and potentially adverse effects of cannabis consumption.

How Does CBD Affect the Endocannabinoid System?

Compared to tetrahydrocannabinol, Cannabidiol, or CBD, does not bind directly to the endocannabinoid receptors. This stands true for both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Rather, it has the ability to modulate the endocannabinoid system by influencing the activity of enzymes, enzymes that are responsible for endocannabinoid breakdown. CBD has an indirect effect on the endocannabinoid system by contributing to its potential therapeutic effect. These include anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, and neuroprotective properties. Because it has the ability to maintain optimal endocannabinoid levels, CBD can support the endocannabinoid system in its role as a regulator of homeostasis. Hence, CBD’s role in influencing ECS by offering a spectrum of potential health benefits makes it a valuable cannabinoid in this whole discussion.

How Do you Protect Against ECS Dysfunction and Disease?

Perhaps it is because the endocannabinoid system has not been discussed as well as the other systems in public discourse, which is why its dysfunction and related problems are not well understood by the common masses. But, maintaining a healthy ECS is essential for overall well-being. There are many lifestyle factors, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and sufficient sleep, that can contribute massively to optimal ECS health.

If one can avoid excessive stress as well as chronic inflammation, these choices can positively impact the endocannabinoid system. Furthermore,f if we can consider the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids, the use of cannabis-derived products or supplements for supporting ECS function also becomes very important. However, one has to be very careful when it comes to the dosage of cannabinoids such as THC or CBD. These interventions must be approached with caution and under the guidance of healthcare professionals. Safety and efficacy are of paramount importance in this discussion.

Discuss ECS More, It Matters!

In this brief, we had the opportunity to look at the many complex intricacies of the endocannabinoid System. After discussing things in detail, we are now able to recognize the profound impact that ECS has on our well-being. From influencing our mood to regulating sleep and immune function, the ECS positions itself as a dynamic and versatile player in the symphony of human biology. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD offer intriguing possibilities for therapeutic interventions. However, figuring out a holistic approach to health remains paramount. Prioritizing lifestyle factors that promote ECS balance, coupled with informed and responsible use of cannabinoids, can contribute significantly to a harmonious relationship with this vital physiological system. By comprehending the interplay between endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes, we gain insights into how the ECS maintains homeostasis. Nurturing a balanced lifestyle and approaching cannabinoid use judiciously can contribute to the well-being of this intricate system.

Conclusion

As we scribbled down the concluding remarks of this brief, one thing was quite apparent. The system can have a profound impact on our overall well-being. Not only can it influence our mood and regulate sleep, but it can also boost our immune function. This makes it a versatile player in the symphony of human biology. ECS serves as a testament to the complexity and adaptability of the human body. Recently, it has opened up exciting avenues for understanding and harnessing the therapeutic potential of endocannabinoids.

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Dr. Saira Zulfiqar, PharmD
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