If you’ve engaged in any dialogue about CBD, you’ve probably heard it a million times: everybody’s got an endocannabinoid system. But what exactly does that mean?
Welcome to Bluebird Botanicals Cannabis Crash Course. This is ECS 101, or Intro to the Endocannabinoid System.
Your endocannabinoid system is one of the largest neurotransmitter networks in the body. It helps promote homeostasis in your body for things like mood, sleep, stress, and appetite, to name a few. All vertebrate mammals have an endocannabinoid system, which essentially just means all mammal bodies are naturally wired to make use of cannabinoids in maintaining homeostasis within various bodily processes.
Let’s Break it Down
Like any major regulatory system in the bodies of humans, the endocannabinoid system is pretty critical.
Conceptualizing the endocannabinoid system breaks down into understanding three key components:
- Cannabinoid receptors
- Endocannabinoids, or signaling molecules that are naturally present in vertebrates
We’re talking primarily about CB1 and CB2 here. These receptors are found throughout your brain and body.
- CB1 receptors are located within your central nervous system, brain, and spinal cord
- CB2 receptors are located in the peripheral nervous system, brain, immune system, and gut
There are other types of receptors that play a role in processes of the endocannabinoid system, but these two are the primary players we want to come to know and love in ECS 101.
While it’s a smidge more complicated than this metaphor conveys, receptors are the “lock” in the “lock-and-key” scenario. Signaling molecules like synthetic and phytocannabinoids “fit” into these receptors and “unlock” different bodily processes as a result.
Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are produced within the body. There are two primary endocannabinoids: Anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG).
- AEA a partial agonist to CB1 and CB2, and is similar to THC
- 2-AG is a full agonist to CB1 and CB2
What the heck is an agonist? An agonist is basically a signalling molecule that has a natural affinity for or tends to bind or interact with certain receptors. In the simplest terms, it’s the key that fits the lock.
Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are found within plants. There are also synthetic cannabinoids or man-made versions that mimic phytocannabinoids. There are three main phytocannabinoids: THC, CBD, and CBD-A.
- THC is an AEA mimetic, meaning it is a partial CB1 and CB2 agonist and acts similarly to endocannabinoid AEA
- CBD does NOT bind directly to receptors but rather modulates receptor activity
- CBD-A or “raw CBD,” which interacts primarily with other enzymes
Want to learn even more about the endocannabinoid system, including the roles of enzymes and terpenes? Stay tuned for the next segment in Bluebird’s Cannabis Crash Course, ECS 102.