The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell signalling system identified in the early 1990s by researchers studying THC, a known cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis.
Scientists are still trying to fully understand the SEC. But so far, we know that it plays a role in regulating a number of functions and processes, including:
- the dream
- the state of mind
- the memory
- reproduction and fertility
SEC exists and is active in your body even if you do not use cannabis.
Read on to learn more about the SEC and how it works and interacts with cannabis.
How does our Endocannabinoid System (ECS) work?
The SEC has three main components: endocannabinoids, receptors and enzymes.
Endocannabinoids, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules produced by the body. They are similar to cannabinoids, but are produced by your body.
Experts have so far identified two key endocannabinoids:
- anandamide (AEA)
- 2-arachidonylglycerol (2-AG)
They help internal functions run smoothly, they are responsible for making our bodies function as they should, healthily. They are produced by the body as needed, so it is difficult to know what the typical levels of each are.
These receptors are found throughout the body. Endocannabinoids bind to them to signal the SEC to act.
There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:
- CB1 receptors, which are mainly found in the central nervous system
- CB2 receptors, which are mainly found in the peripheral nervous system, especially in immune cells.
Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The resulting effects depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.
For example, endocannabinoids may target CB1 receptors on a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others may bind to a CB2 receptor on immune cells to signal that the body is experiencing inflammation, a common sign of autoimmune disorders.
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Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they have served their purpose.
There are two main enzymes responsible for this:
- fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA
- monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which usually breaks down 2-AG
What are the functions of our SECs?
The ESA is complicated, and experts have not yet determined exactly how it works and all its possible functions.
The research has linked the ECS to the following processes:
- appetite and digestion
- chronic pain
- inflammation and other immune system responses
- state of mind
- learning and memory
- nervous system
- the dream
- function of the cardiovascular system
- muscle formation
- bone remodelling and growth
- liver function
- SKIN HEALTH
- cancer and tumours
All of these functions contribute to homeostasis, which refers to the stability of the internal environment. For example, if an external force, such as pain from an injury or fever, disrupts the body's homeostasis, the SEC goes into action to help the body return to its ideal functioning.
Today, experts believe that the maintenance of homeostasis is the main function of the ESA.
What about endocannabinoid deficiency?
Some experts believe in a theory known as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). This theory suggests that low levels of endocannabinoids in your body or SEC dysfunction may contribute to the development of certain diseases.
An article from 2016 which reviews more than 10 years of research on the subject suggests that the explanation for why some people develop migraine, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.
None of these conditions has a clear underlying cause. Moreover, they are often resistant to treatment and sometimes occur in parallel.
If CECD plays a role in these conditions, targeting SEC or endocannabinoid production could be the missing key to treatment, but more research is needed.
The SEC plays an important role in maintaining the stability of its internal processes. But there is still much we don't know about it. As scientists learn more about the SEC, it could hold the key to treating a number of diseases.