Have you heard about the endocannabinoid system – the body’s natural balancing system that keeps our bodies and minds working properly? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t. It was only discovered in the 1990s and it’s only now, 30 years later, that the medical world is waking up to its importance. And guess what – CBD is an amazing, natural way to maximize endocannabinoid health. Stay tuned for a whistle stop tour of the endocannabinoid system, and to understand why we should all take greater care of it!
The Endocannabinoid System – Bringing Balance To Our Bodies and Minds
Most of us have heard of the immune system. We know its modus operandi is to fight off disease and keep us healthy. Indeed, many of us go out of our way to look after our immune system by taking dietary supplements and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. If you knew your body had a lesser-known, but equally important biological system, you’d probably look after it too, right?
Well, guess what, you do. It’s called the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and right now it is working tirelessly to bring homeostasis or balance to your body and mind. It does this by regulating all physiological activity in the body, everything from sleep, appetite, and pain, to memory and mood. Think of the ECS like the conductor of the orchestra, making sure every instrument is playing in harmony with the rest. Even so, 30 years after scientists discovered the ECS, most doctors haven’t heard of it.
This is partly because of the intrinsic link between the endocannabinoid system and the cannabis plant. It is thanks to the cannabis plant that we know the ECS exists at all.
Back in the late 1980s, scientists were trying to discover just why THC, the most widely studied compound in cannabis, had a psychoactive effect. They suspected our bodies must have some as yet undiscovered receptors which, when activated by THC, set off all the effects we commonly associate with cannabis (being “high”). With the discovery of the CB1 receptors in our brains and nervous systems, their theory was proven correct.
Next came the hunt to find cannabinoids made by the body (endogenous) that bind with these CB1 receptors. In 1992 a team of scientists discovered the first (endo)cannabinoid, naming it Anandamide.
The name chosen is quite important and worth remembering. Anandamide was named after the Sanskrit word for bliss, because the team suspected it probably caused a feeling of well-being, similar to that experienced when smoking marijuana.
Three years later, another endocannabinoid was found. Although it has the less sexy name of 2-AG, like Anandamide it activates the CB1 receptors, as well as another type of endocannabinoid receptor (CB2), in the peripheral organs and immune system.
So that left the question: why do our bodies produce millions of receptors and cannabis-like chemicals? In other words, why do we have an ECS?
It turns out that the ECS is a vast communication network whose purpose is correcting any imbalances in our bodies and minds. Martin Lee from Project CBD likens the ECS to a dimmer switch, turning up or down cell activity to bring about homeostasis – the state of balance required for optimum health.
The endocannabinoid system is involved in regulating practically every biological function including appetite, sleep, memory, reproduction, mood, sexual arousal, the immune system, and cell growth.
Not only that, but almost every case of illness indicates some instance of endocannabinoid misregulation. Sometimes this misregulation is a cause of disease, while in others it’s a sign that the body is trying to heal itself.
To put it simply, a functioning endocannabinoid system is key to optimum health.
Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome
It’s thought that today’s lifestyle factors like stress, lack of sleep, alcohol consumption, and poor diet can impede our endocannabinoid system, affecting what’s known as endocannabinoid tone.
American Neuroscientist and Cannabinoid Researcher Dr Ethan Russo has postulated that many 21st century illnesses categorized by an oversensitivity to pain could be caused by endocannabinoid deficiency. This could include migraines, fibromyalgia, IBS, and even multiple sclerosis.
Measuring endocannabinoid levels in our bodies isn’t a straightforward task because they’re only produced on demand and their uptake is almost instantaneous. However, in his paper, “Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes,” Russo found diminished endocannabinoid levels in cerebrospinal fluid in patients with those stated conditions.
Russo suggests that introducing cannabinoids from cannabis and hemp can go some way to redressing this endocannabinoid deficiency and in turn alleviate the symptoms experienced. Indeed, anecdotal reports from fibromyalgia, IBS and migraine patients who successfully use cannabis and hemp to reduce the pain associated with their conditions seem to back this theory.
Can CBD Boost The Endocannabinoid System?
As knowledge about endocannabinoid health becomes more widespread, ways to keep the ECS functioning optimally have become a focus of natural health practitioners.
Top of the list is CBD oil. This is partly because CBD oil derived from hemp is a legal way of enjoying the endocannabinoid benefits of cannabis without the psychoactive side effects. Not only that, CBD has a much subtler effect on our endocannabinoid receptors than THC, which acts a bit like a sledgehammer.
That’s because CBD barely binds to our endocannabinoid receptors at all. Instead, CBD is thought to boost “endocannabinoid tone” by blocking Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH), the enzyme responsible for breaking anandamide down in our bodies.
It’s thought that, by impairing FAAH activity, CBD allows anandamide to be present longer in the brain’s synapses, giving the endocannabinoid more time to do its mood boosting and anti-inflammatory good work.
More research needs to be done to really understand the intricacies of our endocannabinoid system and the role CBD might play in maintaining endocannabinoid health, but with places like Mind Body Green naming the endocannabinoid system a key wellness trend to look out for in 2019, we know we’ll be hearing a lot more about its role in keeping us well and happy.
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