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What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

If you’ve heard about the positive effects of cannabinoids like CBDA, you might’ve heard something about the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Ever stop to ponder why cannabinoids work for what seems like every condition under the sun and then some?

It all comes down to the way these cannabinoids influence the ECS. Some even suggest the ECS is one of the most important physiological systems that exist!

What is the ECS, though? And what the heck does it have to do with cannabinoids like CBDA?

We’re glad you asked.

Check it out.

What Is The Endocannabinoid System?

Discovered in the early 1990s, the endocannabinoid system (or endogenous cannabinoid system) is vital for the maintenance of balanced health. Get this, though. Humans aren’t the only ones that an ECS. The ECS is found in almost all living creatures, including mammals, reptiles, fish, birds and amphibians. It’s also present in invertebrates, like earthworms, snails, squids, spiders and jellyfish. Certain insects seem to be one of the only exceptions.

With this system present in practically every living being, it must be pretty important right? You bet! It’s responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body, meaning it helps keep a reasonably stable environment in body and mind regardless of external changes.

The ECS is found throughout the entire body. Think in the brain, immune cells, reproductive system, organs, connective tissues, muscles, skin and glands. It plays a vital role in several physiological systems, with experts maintaining that the ECS is literally a bridge between body and mind.

What exactly does the ECS influence? Quite a bit, actually. Research shows that the ECS may influence the following and more:

  • Mood
  • Memory
  • Sleep
  • Appetite
  • Immune function
  • Digestive function
  • Reproductive function
  • Pain perception
  • Neurological function

Understanding The ECS

To say the ECS is complex is an understatement. It’s a wildly complex system that researchers are just beginning to understand. Here we’ll break it down simply in order to gain a better understanding of how it works, as well as how it is influenced by (and interacts with) various cannabinoids such as CBDA.

The ECS is made up of three distinct parts. These include:

  • Endocannabinoids that are naturally produced by the body.
  • Cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body and brain.
  • Enzymes that break down the body’s endocannabinoids.

Looking at each of these distinct parts separately can help to gain a better understanding of how the ECS works.

  • Endocannabinoids

There are two endocannabinoids that are naturally produced by the body. They are known as anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).

Anandamide, a neurotransmitter, plays a large part in creating feelings of pleasure and positive mood, has shown to help decrease anxiety-like behaviors and demonstrates anti-inflammatory properties. Also found abundantly in dark chocolate, it’s commonly referred to as the “bliss molecule” for its ability to make you feel so damn good.

2-AG is a molecule that comes from essential fatty acids. It’s responsible for several functions in the body such as pain regulation, appetite, immune function and the regulation of conditions like anxiety, depression and drug-seeking behavior.

  • Cannabinoid Receptors

The two cannabinoids receptors in the ECS are simply referred to as CB1 and CB2. They’re literally found throughout the entire body and play two very specific roles. One, they control the effects of the body’s endocannabinoids. Two, they’re responsible for the effects of the various cannabinoids found in cannabis.

CB1 receptors are mostly in the brain and central nervous system. The majority are found in areas of the brain linked to our emotions, memory and perception of pain.

CB2 receptors are mostly found in immune cells, in the gastrointestinal tract and the spleen. With the high concentrations in immune cells, they’re closely connected to immune functions like inflammation and pain. CB2 receptors also mediate dopamine activity in the brain, associating them with reward and addiction.

  • Enzymes

Metabolic enzymes complete the ECS and hold the role of breaking down the body’s endocannabinoids after they’ve served their purpose. There are two ECS enzymes: fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL).

CBDA And The Endocannabinoid System

Wondering why CBDA and other cannabinoids work the way they do? It all comes down to the way they interact with and influence the ECS. Cannabinoids in cannabis, also referred to as phytocannabinoids, are very much similar to endocannabinoid produced in the body.

Remember when we mentioned that cannabinoid receptors are responsible for the effects of cannabis? Cannabinoids like CBDA, CBD, CBN, THC and more all interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors. While some cannabinoids bind directly to cannabinoid receptors, CBDA and CBD have more of an indirect influence on ECS function.  

For example, CBDA doesn’t bind with either receptor. It does, however, inhibit enzyme production that mediates endocannabinoid tone in the brain. CBDA also enhances the production of 5HT1A serotonin receptors.  

Supporting The ECS With CBDA And Other Cannabinoids

While the ECS is designed to support homeostasis throughout the body, external and internal factors can often disrupt the delicate balance of body and mind. Here’s where cannabinoids like CBDA come in.

It’s suggested that cannabinoids can support ECS dysfunction, with clinical evidence supporting the idea that various cannabinoids hold promise to encourage homeostasis in the ECS and its related functions.

It’s important to keep in mind that scientists are just beginning to scratch the surface of the ECS and how cannabinoids like CBDA may influence wellbeing. By no means should cannabinoids be considered a “treatment” for various conditions. Instead they might be thought of as an all-natural way to support a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

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