As we explored in our first blog post, the Endocannabinoid System (or “ECS”) is a many hundreds of millions year old system that coordinates basic biological processes necessary for maintaining life in almost every animal species on the planet. Kind of a mouthful if you ask me!
This can be more artfully considered as a system of chemical balance, or the body’s “conductor” – fine-tuning life functions and keeping us within the “goldilocks zone” of good health. But while the Endocannabinoid System involved in at least some capacity with most biological processes, there are certain processes that it affects much more than others.
All in all, we have a pretty good idea of what the ECS is involved with (however, new research is pouring out every day, so don’t take this as an exhaustive list by any means!), listed below:
CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors affect:
- Perception of Pain and Temperature.
- Cardiovascular (Heart) Function.
- Gastrointestinal (Gut) Function.
- Respiratory (Lung) Function.
- Cell Metabolism (Functions), Proliferation (Creation), and Apoptosis (Death).
- Reward and Addiction.
CB1 receptors specifically are involved with:
- Hunger and Food Intake.
- Adrenal (Stress) Response.
- Reproductive Function.
- Sleep/Wake Cycles.
CB2 receptors specifically are currently understood to impact:
- Cellular Immune Response
- Inflammation and Wound Healing
In terms of higher mental functioning, the ECS is involved with:
- Stress and Anxiety
- Motivation and Depression
- Pleasure and Well-being
- Procedural Learning
- Memory Formation
- Forming and Extinguishing Fears
You can see here why the endocannabinoid system has been described as the system of “relax, eat, sleep, forget and protect.”
What’s fascinating about the ECS is that it’s more of an “on-demand” system when compared with other systems in the body. As opposed to neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that are created and stored for later use, endocannabinoids are created instantaneously in response to a stressor or imbalance, and after they’ve fulfilled their role, just as rapidly degraded by an enzyme. This allows the ECS to perform checks and balances without tipping the scales too far in one direction or another, as well as to target specific systems and regions of the body without disrupting others. One interesting study found that CB2 receptors upregulate (ie a lot more of them appear) after a traumatic injury – your body’s way of speeding up the healing process.
Before we finish off, here’s some interesting bite-sized endocannabinoid trivia!
- CB1 receptors are the most abundant receptor in the human brain, even more so than serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline receptors.
- Some of the most basic lifeforms on this planet feature a functioning ECS, including sea squirts, roundworms, and spiders!
- Black truffles (the sought-after gourmet mushroom variety) produce anandamide, one of our body’s important mood-boosting endocannabinoids.
- Chocolate also contains anandamide, as well as a group of chemicals that prevent its breakdown and increase circulating endocannabinoid levels – no wonder we love it so much!
That wraps up our introduction to the Endocannabinoid System, one of the most important (if not the most important) systems in the human body – a system that we stumbled upon only due to our love of and fascination with the cannabis plant. Make sure to sign up for email notifications as parts three and four – exploring how our ECS interacts with the nervous system, and how we can naturally supercharge our endocannabinoid system – will be released in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, keep being the miracles of nature you are every day – I’ll see you again soon!
About the author
Lana Tong is an aspiring Endocannabinoid Psychopharmacologist and Squirrel Behavioral Therapist based in Victoria, British Columbia. She’s passionate about cannabis as a medicine, entheogen, food, fiber crop, and so much more. Lana hopes to one day swim in a pool filled with organic CBD-infused coconut oil – we all have dreams, right?