Your endocannabinoid system, or ECS, plays a huge role in regulating your sleep, mood, appetite, memory, as well as your reproduction and fertility. It is also responsible for managing your pain and sensation, as well as your energy and stress response. Regardless of whether you consume supplements or not, ECS is present in your body and below is a comprehensive summary of how it works.
Elements Of The Endocannabinoid System
eCBs, which are sometimes referred to as endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules produced throughout your body. These are known as the messengers in the ECS and they have very similar characteristics to cannabinoids. There are two types of eCBs circulating in your body and these are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol. These are produced as needed and they ensure that your internal body functions are running seamlessly.
- Anandamide– This type of eCB is a fatty acid neurotransmitter derived from arachidonic acid, which is an essential omega-6 fatty acid. Anandamide is also a cannabinoid that interacts with the nervous system. For runners, a high level of this cannabinoid may cause the infamous ‘runner’s high’. In some instances, a high level of anandamide results in the improvement of a patient with Alzheimer’s.
- 2-ArachidonoylGlycerol (2-AG)– 2-AG is the endogenous cannabinoid that is often associated with your body’s emotional state. It is also the same eCB that is responsible for protecting your body from seizures and maintaining your cardiovascular health. The calm feeling that you induce after meditation or relaxation can also be credited to 2-AG.
If the endocannabinoids are considered as the messengers, the receptors can be considered as the guards waiting for the messengers. These receptors can be found all over your body, sitting on the surfaces of your cells. The endocannabinoids, or the messengers, bind these receptors together to signal the entire ECS to function. Once they are bound together, they can greatly influence your body’s immunity, sensation, mood, and even your consciousness. Like eCBs, receptors are also categorized into two types.
- CB1 Receptors- These receptors are essential for the cognitive function of your brain and these are generally found in the central nervous system. CB1 receptors can be found in your cerebral cortex, which can greatly influence your decision-making capabilities, as well as your emotional behavior. The CB1 receptors present in your caudate nucleus impacts your memory while those in your putamen and globus pallidus regulate your locomotor skills or movement. There are also CB1 receptors in your amygdala, which handles your body’s response to stress and anxiety, as well as fear and pain. The CB1 receptors in your hypothalamus greatly influence your body temperature while those in your hippocampus affect your learning. Hence, endocannabinoids may bind CB1 receptors even those in your spinal nerve to help alleviate the pain you are feeling or regulate your memory, mood, or motor function.
- CB2 Receptors- These receptors are often found in your body’s peripheral nervous system, specifically in the cells of your immune system. Thus, they are responsible for triggering your body to act against asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders, as well as inflammatory bowel disease. This is because when CB2 receptors are bound, they send a signal in your brain that you are experiencing the conditions previously mentioned, prompting your body to act out accordingly.
Aside from the eCBs and the receptors, the ECS is also made up of enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for building the eCBs or the messengers, and breaking down these endocannabinoids once these messengers have already carried out their function. The fatty acid amide hydrolase enzyme breaks down the anandamide, while the monoacylglycerol acid lipase breaks down the 2-AG.
Endocannabinoid System Workflow
The ECS is quite a complex process because an endocannabinoid can bind multiple receptors and in the same manner, the receptors can be bound by multiple endocannabinoids. Nevertheless, one way to describe the entire process can begin with the messengers of the endocannabinoids binding the receptors to send particular triggers to the brain for the body to act out a certain function or feel a certain sensation or emotion. This can be considered as the simplest representation of the entire ECS workflow.
Your body tends to activate the ECS with precision such that the messengers are created and sent only to the receptors that are necessary. For instance, if your digestive system is having problems, then the ECS will work towards regulating it without having any effect on your reproductive or immune system. Once the cannabinoids have done what they are intended to do, the enzymes break the messengers apart in order to ensure that unnecessary and excessive response is inhibited and balance is maintained.
Function Of The ECS
Several studies show that the main function of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain homeostasis, or the perfect harmony in body functions. But apart from this, ECS is known to regulate the appetite, metabolism and digestion, as well as manage chronic pain. In some instances, the ECS is perceived to have a key role in cognitive functions such as learning and memory, as well as in the locomotor functions of the body. It goes without saying that the ECS is also responsible for your mood swings or sleep patterns.
It is essential to ensure that your ECS is working properly but there are certain individuals who experience endocannabinoid deficiency. A person who may be experiencing fibromyalgia, migraine, or irritable bowel syndrome may be suffering from endocannabinoid deficiency. These functional conditions may often be difficult to treat but researchers are now looking into cannabis-infused treatments to address these conditions.
Your ECS is an essential part of your body that generates balance in many aspects of your body functions. Endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes all work together to ensure harmony and balance in your cells, tissues, and organs, otherwise known as homeostasis. Keep in mind that your stress levels, diet, and exercise may all influence the health of your body’s ECS such that you may need to take an extra effort to restore the balance to your body’s endocannabinoid system.