What is the Endocannabinoid system and why is it important?

First let’s understand the word “endocannabinoid.”  The word “endo” is short for “endogenous,” which means coming from within.  The word “cannabinoid,” is one of a class of diverse chemical compounds that acts on cannabinoid receptors in cells that alter neurotransmitter release in the brain.  So “Endocannabinoid” system is the system within our body that responds to cannabinoid changes within our bodies.

Many people don’t know that the humans (and animals) produce cannabinoids naturally to assist in keeping your internal environment in stable and optimal conditions.  The Endocannabidnoid System (ECS) is made up of 3 parts:  Endocannabinoids, receptors in the nervous system and around your body that endocannabinoids and cannabinoids bond with, and enzymes that help break down endocannabinoids and cannabinoids.

So… Why is it important?  The reason why having a healthy ECS is beneficial to your health is that it helps keep your body in homeostasis.  Basically, homeostasis is a state when your body’s internal environment is in equilibrium.  For example, when you are running hot and begin to sweat, this is your ECS working to cool you down or when you are hungry and your stomach growls, this is your ECS reminding you to eat because you need fuel. 

The ECS is able to do this via the cannabinoid receptors found in certain parts of your tissues.  There are (at least) two types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 – which is located in the central nervous system (brain and nerves of the spinal cord), and CB2 – which is in the peripheral nervous system (nerves in your extremities), the digestive system, and specialized cells in the immune system.

Cannabinoid receptors are believed to be among the most plentiful in our central nervous system.  Through those receptors, the ECS helps control many vital functions such as: appetite, digestion, immune function, inflammation (including neuroinflammation), mood, sleep, motor control, temperature regulation, memory, pleasure/reward, pain and many others.

When something in our body is not in homeostasis our ECS activates precisely only in areas where it’s needed.  Once the endocannabinoids have done their job then enzymes come are activate to break down the endocannabinoids to prevent them from going too far and upsetting the balance in the other direction.