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Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

The discovery of the endocannabinoid system is the single most important medical scientific discovery ever and will save more lives than the discovery and application of sterile surgical technique.”
- Dr. David Allen, Cardiovascular Surgeon

 

The endocannabinoid system was overlooked for most of medical history. Much like oxygen’s ubiquitousness makes it easy to forget about, the ECS’s functions are so far-reaching that it tended to stay below the threshold of perception…

Until now. You can think of the endocannabinoid system as the homeostatic regulator of the body. What does that mean? Let’s learn more. 

What is the Endocannabinoid System? 

The Endocannabinoid System is a biological system found in all mammals that affects every physiological process, including appetite, regulation of mood and perception of pain. That’s no exaggeration; think of the ECS as the body’s internal communication center. 

Molecular biologist Bob Melamede puts it this way: 

“The endocannabinoid system homeostatically regulates all human body systems (circulatory, digestive, endocrine, immunological, neuromuscular, skeletal, reproductive and skin) from conception until death!”

Impressive, right? Keep in mind that this is just the shortlist; the ECS also oversees dozens of other physiological processes. It’s that far-reaching. 

Overall, the endocannabinoid system is widely considered one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health. It’s the foundation upon which many, many other systems and processes can properly function! 

How does the Endocannabinoid System work?

At the heart of the ECS’s ability is the unique way it sends signals. Most systems in the body communicate along a one-way street, sending signals from neuron to neuron on an ongoing basis. The endocannabinoid system is different...very different. 

We won’t bore you with the technicalities, but suffice to say that ECS signals are sent backward. They travel in the opposite direction as most other signaling molecules! And that means they can regulate the flow of all that one-way ‘traffic,’ so to speak, and provide feedback loops the body can use to keep itself in check. This complex process is known by researchers as retrograde signaling

The endocannabinoid system also has many different parts. These include two primary types of receptors (CB1 in the brain, CB2 in the peripheral body) and two main endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG). 

In the best-case scenario these components are self-perpetuating, with the endocannabinoids providing a steady stream of messages to their receptors and keeping everything in check. Sometimes, though, the ECS needs a little external help. Let’s take a look at how it can be strengthened. 

How can the Endocannabinoid System be strengthened?

Nature’s made helping the ECS easy. Various activities and substances may help boost the endocannabinoid system so it can do what it does best. Here’s a short list of them: 

  • Healthy foods
  • Essential fatty acids
  • Hemp/cannabis
  • Terpenes
  • Exercise
  • Massage therapy
  • Social interaction

Actually, anything that provides gentle, overcomeable stress to the body may help indirectly strengthen the endocannabinoid system. And so do many plant compounds, of course. 

CBD & Endocannabinoid function

The ECS’s existence also answers a very important question: the question of how CBD acts as ‘intelligently’ as it does. For example, one person may take CBD and sleep better, while another person may take CBD, sleep less, and begin feeling more wakeful during the day. What gives? 

These variances likely occur because CBD isn’t targeting the symptoms associated with sleep. It’s targeting the ECS that regulates it! And the endocannabinoid system doesn’t promote either sleepiness or wakefulness — just a gentle return back to perfect balance.