What is the ECS?

Endocannabinoid system

With the rise of CBD and hemp based products a lot of attention has been placed on what is the ECS and how does it keep us healthy? Without our ECS, CBD and THC
would not have its effects. The ECS is one of the most important and widely spread systems with in our body. It was only recently discovered in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The ECS was only discovered after Dr.Mechoulam and Dr. Gaoni of Israel identified THC as the active ingredient of Cannabis in 1964. It was once THC was discovered were researchers able to find where it was binding throughout our body and identify specific receptors.

Research has shown that the ECS has evolved over 500 million years ago and is present in all vertebrates such as: Fish, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Endo means within our body and Cannabinoid refers to receptors that respond to our own lipid-based neurotransmitters that our body makes. We also respond to outside sources of cannabinoids from plants called, phytocannabinoids. Our body produces its’ own cannabinoid like molecules called: 2- arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG) and Anandamide (AEA). The name is derived from the Sanskirt word, ananda,
which means delight, bliss or joy. AEA is one of the major molecules that is responsible creates for that feeling of bliss and joy. As research progresses, there is thought that the “Runner’s high” is mediated by AEA and 2-AG.

The ECS is widespread and responsible to maintain homeostasis in our body. Homeostasis (Ho-me-o-sta-sis) is the tendency for our body to want to maintain a stable and balanced environment. This is a dynamic and always changing process due to the ever changing processes not only with in our body, but from outside. The best example of this is the air conditioning and thermostat in your house. When you set your air at a certain temperature and the temperature of your house goes beyond that, the thermostat will sense that and tell the air conditioning to turn on to keep the temperature where you set it. This cycle continues all day every day in order to keep your house at a comfortable temperature. It is a dynamic process in an ever- changing environment, just like your own body temperature or the changing levels of your hormones on a daily basis.

Endocannabinoid Function

The ECS is very complicated and all of potential functions and processes have yet to be discovered. We do know that is plays important roles in many different processes including but not limited to the ones listed above.

There are two main receptors located with in the ECS: CB1R and CB2R. Their numbers are representative of the order in which they were discovered. Each one is found in higher concentrations in different places throughout the body. CB1R is found primarily in the central nervous system (CNS) and CB2R is found on the immune cells and various other cells such as: pancreas, reproductive organs, spleen, bone, muscle and many other tissues.

CBD Receptors

It is only when our ECS is not function properly do we realize how important it is! The function of the ECS is so vast and ever reaching that sometimes it is not the dysfunction of the ECS that is the main problem, but it could be a very large contributor to the issues. Currently, the FDA has only approved the CBD based medication called Epidiolex as a recognized treatment for two very specific types of seizure disorders in children: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet Syndrome. The FDA does not recognize CBD as either a supplement or food product and does not approve its use to diagnosis or treat any conditions other than the above seizure disorders that it has already approved. There are a lot of unsubstantiated claims being made about CBD and it can be dangerous to the public if they are not educated about the proper use of CBD and to always check with their medical professionals prior to using any supplements, especially CBD.

Like most body systems it is when it becomes dysfunctional, is when we are able to work backwards to figure out the normal function. As this field progresses, we are going to find a lot of uses for CBD and the other products of the Cannabis plant. It is best to check with a medical professional who has knowledge of Cannabis or CBD prior to starting any products.

The research and understanding of the ECS and CBD is still relatively new compared to the other body systems. A simple search in PubMed (The NIH aggregation of published articles) with the word “Cannabidiol”, shows that between the years of 1964-1990 that there was only 40 publications! From the year 1990-2000, only 28 more and 2000-2010 557 more. It wasn’t until this past decade, 2010-2020 that there was over 3,800 publications. This goes to show how new and evolving this field is.