Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System

Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System

One system in the body underpins many others. 


Your doctor may never mention it, but it impacts everything from your central nervous system to lymphatic system, immunity and the gut. It’s an intrinsic part of the brain, influencing mood, appetite and even sex hormones.


Imagine an organisational chart - yep, just like those ones floating around the office. From CEO down, every tier and team hangs. Think of the CEO and team leaders receptors in your endocannabinoid system.


There’s an attitude problem in the organisation. It’s decided that the solution is to do a restructure of members of your team which sits somewhere in the middle of the business. Little do they expect this change to impact all the surrounding teams.


While the new chart looks great on paper, in reality the restructure is throwing things off balance, causing instability in all the interlinked departments. A second team restructure inevitably follows to adapt to the new dynamic. (I love this analogy for pharmaceuticals, which target a symptom rather than the source of the problem).


Consider, then, what happens if the view was to take a top down approach, targeting the CEO who in turn works with relevant team leaders where attitude problems have been identified. From the top tiers down, signals are sent to make a cultural change. Slowly, things improve and we achieve a new, elevated state of balance.


While it may not always work out like this in the corporate world, bringing your body into balance, or homeostasis, is the function of your endocannabinoid system. And you don’t need to smoke weed to target it.


A short history of the endocannabinoid system: We wanted to find out how marijuana gets us high and found the endocannabinoid system


Researchers describe the endocannabinoid system as the most complicated signalling system in our bodies.

The first endocannabinoid receptor was identified in 1988, and since cannabis is known for its psychoactive effects, read: getting you high, research was focused on how endocannabinoid receptors communicate and influence our brain and central nervous system. 3

But over the last 30 years, we’ve found that the endocannabinoid system isn’t only in the brain. It is present everywhere in the body: the heart, liver, pancreas, skin, reproductive tract, you name it. And disrupted endocannabinoid signalling has been associated with many disorders, including diabetes, hypertension, infertility, liver disease, and more.


Cannabinoids: compounds found in plants and in our bodies that talk to your internal signalling system


"Cannabinoid" is the name given to any compound that interacts with the endocannabinoid system, including the cannabinoids made naturally by your body (called endocannabinoids) and the ones found in plants (called phytocannabinoids).


The most well-known cannabinoids are CBD and THC, but there are more than 120 in the cannabis plant alone, and they’re all unique.


Hemp, marijuana and cannabinoids


Cannabis sativa is the taxonomic name for the cannabis plant, which includes both marijuana and hemp.


Marijuana has typically been bred for higher levels of THC, the cannabinoid that gets you high. Hemp is cannabis that generally has low levels of THC and has been historically used for food and also industrial purposes, like making building materials and clothing.


The other cannabinoid getting lots of attention is CBD, which is being touted as a bit of a “miracle” supplement, known for its anti-inflammatory, neuro-protective, appetite suppressive and anti-anxiety properties with no evidence of side effects. The CBD products you’ll find here at Hemple or in health food stores are derived from hemp—with levels of THC less than 0.3 percent— meaning they are non-psychoactive, and won't get you high.


Cannabinoids and endocannabinoid-supporting nutrients can be found in other plants, like hops, rosemary, black pepper and cacao - yep you read that right, in chocolate, but more on that later.



So we have an endocannabinoid system. It’s linked to loads of other systems in the body and helps to keep our health in balance. It’s fed by cannabinoids that we make ourselves or plant sources that we can smoke, vape and eat. But where do cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system meet? Next, let’s nerd out on cannabinoid receptors.

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