The Endocannabinoid System: A Simplified Tutorial

Posted by administrator on 1/27/2017
Most of us grew up learning about the different "systems" in the human body. There was the digestive system, the nervous system, the immune system, the pulmonary system, the circulatory system, and the endocrine system. But you may be saying, "Hey wait a minute... what the heck is the "endocannabinoid system? I never heard about that one in biology class! Was I asleep that day?!"

The reason your teacher didn't talk about the endocannabinoid system, and you didn't see anything about it in your high school textbooks, is it wasn't yet discovered or it was so newly discovered, it just hadn't made it into the curriculum. In fact, even now, there are college level biology textbooks used by universities across the county that still haven't been updated to include information about the endocannabinoid system. Moreover, the scientists who most actively work on the endocannabinoid system don't fully understand this system yet. 

So, why then do you need to learn something about the endocannabinoid system?

To understand the extraordinary power that cannabinoids like CBD can have on the human body, you need to understand at least a little about the endocannabinoid system. You need to know what it includes and how it works. Moreover, a basic knowledge of the endocannabinoid system will help you better understand and interpret the exciting new research results being reported almost every day now that detail scientific evidence that CBD and other cannabinoids have a variety of positive effects on the human body!

What Is the Endocannabinoid System In a Nutshell

Scientists have figured out that the endocannabinoid system seems to control all the other systems in the body. It is becoming increasingly clear that it is a master system, so to speak. The endocannabinoid system can turn physiological processes in other systems on and off. It can turn genes on and off. It can also modify and modulate physiological processes as they are occurring. It can trigger cell growth, cell death, and cell differentiation.
In other words, the endocannabinoid system is extremely powerful!

To emphasize the relevance of what's stated above, here are just a few examples of what we now know the endocannabinoid system is involved with:
- If stimulated properly, the endocannabinoid system can regulate the release of insulin and modify how sensitive our cell membranes are to insulin, i.e. it can decrease insulin resistance and some scientists believe it is the key to finally beating diabetes. 
- If stimulated properly, the endocannabinoid system can greatly reduce epileptic seizures where prescription medications have failed to do so. This includes forms of epilepsy, such as Dravit's Syndrome, that involve frequent life threatening seizures and hospitalization. 
- If stimulated properly, the endocannabinoid system can help those suffering with debilitating inflammation reduce their pain, swelling, and other symptoms. This includes people with severe arthritis and fibromyalgia.
- If stimulated properly, the endocannabinoid system can decrease appetite, suppress fat cells from maturing, and increase metabolism. This could be critical in helping those with obesity and other metabolic issues. It could also help people who just want to lose weight and or maintain a healthy weight.
- If stimulated properly, the endocannabinoid system can help restore a healthy balance to intestinal flora and vastly improve symptoms of those with gastrointestinal issues such as irritable bowel syndrome.
- If stimulated properly, the endocannabinoid system can prevent cancer cells from growing and retard malignant tumors from spreading.

And... these are just a small collection of examples of what you can already find in the scientific literature about the endocannabinoid system! 

Again, the endocannabinoid system works like a "master system" affecting all other systems in the body. Therefore, it seems to have huge potential in improving, or even alleviating, many diseases and ailments.

What Is the Endocannabinoid System -- The Nuts and Bolts

The endocannabinoid system consists of three parts:

1. Highly specialized receptor sites that are embedded in cell membranes (CB1, CB2, etc) 
Different types of endocannabinoid system receptors are located in different areas of the body. These receptors are far more extensive than originally thought when they were first discovered. The first two types of receptors in this system that have been indisputably identified and proven for sure to be receptors in this syste are referred to as the CB1 receptor and the CB2 receptor. However, there are several other types of cell membrane receptors that are highly suspected to also be part of the endocannabinoid system.

2. Signaling molecules that interact with the receptor sites (endocannabinoids)
There are many types of signaling molecules in the endocannabinoid system and more are being discovered all the time. Collectively, they are called endocannabinoids. All endocannabinoids are lipids and are made from polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) like omega-3, omega-6, omega-9, and conjugated fatty acids. Two of the most most studied signaling molecules include AEA (also known as anandamide or N-arachidonoylethanolamide) and 2-AG (also known as 2-arachidonoylglycerol) but there are many others.

3. Specialized enzymes 
These enzymes (a type of protein) serve as a chemical catalyst to start the biochemical processes required to make the signaling molecules when they are needed. They also serve to break down the signaling molecules when they are no longer needed. Two of these enzymes include monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) and fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) but there are also others. 

How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?

This is where the details can make your head spin and your eyes cross so let's just stick to the overall mechanism. Basically, the endocannabinoid system is designed to keep your body in balance, i.e. maintain the homeostasis of all other systems. It does this through the action of its endocannabinoids which go directly to the receptors on the cells at the target and signal to those genes, cells, tissues, organs, and systems what to do!

You'll often read that CB1 receptors are found mostly in the brain and nervous system (and sexual organs) and that CB2 receptors are found mostly in the immune system, especially the spleen. However, this is a gross oversimplification that leads to the erroneous notion that the endocannabinoid system modulates only those two systems. This is not at all true as receptors for this system are found all throughout the body. For example, there is a high concentration of them on undeveloped bone cells (osteoblasts). If these endocannabinoid system receptors are stimulated, they will develop into mature bone cells. Since most of these receptors are CB2 receptors, taking CBD oil can help build bone density.

What Is the Relationship Between Cannabinoids like CBD and the Endocannabinoid System?

Okay, now that you've waded through all that technical jargon, this is where it gets REALLY interesting!

Endocannabinoids are signaling molecules that are produced INSIDE the body. "Endo" means inside (internal).

Cannabinoids are molecules produced in plants like cannabis that are very similar in structure endocannabinoids. Sometimes they are referred to as phytocannabinoids which literally means "plant cannabinoids." 
You may be surprised to learn that the most common endocannabinoids that have been studied have cannabinoid counterparts in plants that can interact with the cell membrane receptors in an almost identical way, i.e. they are functionally the same. Intriguingly however, they are somewhat different in structure. In the scientific literature, these counterparts are called "mimetics" because they "mimic" certain ndocannabinoids.

These cannabinoid counterparts (mimetics), including CBD, are highly concentrated in the essential oil of the cannabis plant. So, when you take full spectrum CBD oil, you are essentially feeding your body powerful signaling molecules (cannabinoids) that can interact directly with your endocannabinoid system!

- CBD (cannabidiol)
CBD's endocannabinoid counterpart (mimetic) is 2-AG, also known as 2-arachidonoylglycerol.
- THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)
This is the psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana. It's endocannabinoid counterpart is AEA, also known as anandamide or N-arachidonoylethanolamide. Keep in mind that the CBD oils we sell contain only trace amounts of THC.

Final Message

If you remember nothing else about the endocannabinoid system, remember these facts:
1. Full spectrum CBD oil contains several cannabinoids, counterparts (mimetics) to endocannabinoids the body produces naturally. These cannabinoids can interact with the receptors in your endocannabinoid system just as easily as endocannabinoids.

2. Scientists are still trying to figure out the minute details of how the endocannabinoid system works. They haven't even mapped out all the receptor types yet! However, the picture that is emerging is that the endocannabinoid system is the most powerful system in the body, capable of modulating the immune system, the nervous system, the digestive system, the endocrine system, and more. It is so powerful, in fact, you can almost think of it as an omnipotent wizard that has the ability to affect everything in your body with the wave of a magic wand!

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