CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
Most people have heard of CBD. Consumer sales are expected to hit 1.8 billion dollars by 2022, an increase from around half a million dollars of sales in 2018. This industry is big and is expanding rapidly.
At Urban Roots Hemp Co, we get inquiries all the time from people who are thinking about trying CBD for the first time. Most of them have heard of CBD and its potential benefits, but many aren’t quite sure exactly what it is or how it works in the body.
This brings us to CBD and the endocannabinoid system.
Now I know what you are thinking, “what the heck is the endocannabinoid system?” It makes total sense that you would ask that question because it is a relatively recently discovered bodily system. That means that you would not have learned about it in school along with the circulatory system, respiratory system, nervous system, etc.
Well, to help you on your CBD journey, we are going to give you the basics of what the endocannabinoid system is and how it interacts with CBD without diving too deep into the biology.
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
The first pieces of the endocannabinoid system were uncovered during the 1960s and 1970s by researchers and scientists who were attempting to understand how cannabinoids affected the human body. Cannabinoids are the chemical elements found in marijuana and hemp (or cannabis) plants like CBD and THC.
What they found was pretty exciting. They discovered a network of receptors, enzymes, and biochemical pathways involved in manufacturing and using the body’s own form of cannabinoids: endocannabinoids (“endo” meaning "originating within the body"). Furthermore, they found that this system of receptors, enzymes, and biochemical pathways also respond pharmacologically to cannabis.
In a nutshell, this research established that cannabinoids trigger receptors found throughout the endocannabinoid system. These triggers then initiate changes throughout our nervous systems and other bodily systems. Scientists have now concluded that cannabinoids and other components of cannabis (read, components of hemp and marijuana plants) can modulate many physiological systems in the human brain and body.
Additionally, endocannabinoid systems have been found in a range of other animal species, even ones that diverged evolutionally from us hundreds of millions of years ago. This has led researchers to conclude that basic ECS systems arose in animals about 600 million years ago. Due to its early arrival, and the subsequent evolutionary development of the animals it’s found in, this system is heavily intertwined with many key bodily functions.
How the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) Works
The ECS is made up of three primary components:
- Receptors in the nervous system and around your body that endocannabinoids and cannabinoids bond with
- Enzymes that help break down endocannabinoids and cannabinoids
The most abundant cannabinoid receptor is called CB1. However, CB2 cannabinoid receptors, transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, and peroxisome proliferator activated receptors (PPAR’s) are also engaged by some cannabinoids.
Just as neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are the chemical messengers of the nervous system, the endocannabinoids are the messengers of the endocannabinoid system. They travel throughout the system and bind to certain cannabinoid receptors in different parts of the body.
Essentially they carry information about the state of your body and how to correct anything that is wrong. When they bind with a receptor, it triggers the appropriate response. Depending on what the issue is, either a CB1 or CB2 receptor will be triggered.
CB1 receptors are essential for a healthy functioning brain and are one of the most common receptors in the entire nervous system. They are found especially concentrated in the central nervous system areas of the brain and spinal cord. Depending on what region of the brain they are located in, they can be moderators of your memory, mood, motor function, or your perception of pain.
CB2 receptors are most often found in the peripheral nervous system. Specifically, on the cells of our immune system. This allows them to help moderate and respond to inflammation and our immune response to pathogens. If you use CBD products to combat conditions of an overactive immune system (i.e. arthritis, asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders or digestive issues like inflammatory bowel disease), those are your CB2 receptors hard at work.
What all the research and study has shown is that the ECS is basically responsible for maintaining balance in the body, or homeostasis. In essence, homeostasis is your body’s effort to keep reactions and systems—essentially all bodily function—inside the correct and healthy “zone”.
This is to ensure that the internal conditions of your body remain more or less constant, despite changing external conditions all around you. Your nervous system works tirelessly to keep your body functioning at its optimal level in all environments and conditions.
The endocannabinoid system is the body’s means for accomplishing this. If you are a car person then you can think of the analogy of your car’s computer (or engine control unit). This computer constantly monitors and regulates the different functions of the engine and either makes adjustments or illuminates the dreaded check engine light if something is off. Imagine the engine control unit is your central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the sensors, wiring, and circuits are the components of the endocannabinoid system.
If a body system is outside its acceptable range, the ECS is activated by the brain to initiate a solution or at least a response. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for your sweating when you get hot, your dry mouth when you are thirsty, and your stomach growling when you are hungry. These are all attempts to maintain balance.
Endocannabinoid System and CBD
What CBD and other cannabinoids are able to do is tap into this vast communication network. Just like your body’s endocannabinoids, CBD can bind with CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, instead of fully triggering them, it temporarily modifies what other endocannabinoids are able to bind with the receptors. This is why CBD is thought to modify bodily responses like inflammation, stress, arthritis and other conditions.
Essentially, the pain you are feeling from these different conditions are your body’s attempt to use the ECS to maintain homeostasis. The problem is that these bodily responses can sometimes be overreactions and can often result in extreme discomfort. Substances like CBD are thought to step in and keep the ECS from going too far or responding too strongly.
The real exciting part about all of this, about the ECS and CBD both, is that the discovery is just beginning. We are just on the cusp of learning everything that the endocannabinoid system and CBD can do for our body.