What is the endocannabinoid system? It’s the body’s most complicated signalling system, responsible for bringing other bodily systems such as the immune system, endocrine system and central nervous system back into balance.
Cannabinoids are responsible for keeping endocannabinoid signalling on track.
When the endocannabinoid system works properly, we sleep well, manage stress and anxiety and have a healthy appetite. Disrupted endocannabinoid signalling has been associated with many disorders, including diabetes, hypertension, infertility, liver disease, and more.
Cannabinoids from plants like CBD, THC, CBG and CBN, and endocannabinoids our body makes itself, bind to “cannabinoid receptors” in your body and brain.
Think of cannabinoid receptors like little locks, and cannabinoids fitting naturally into these locks like keys. These locks and keys make your endocannabinoid system, which can influence appetite, pain, inflammation, sleep, stress responses, mood, memory, motivation, reward and more.
There are two main cannabinoid receptors – cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2).
CB1 receptors are mostly found in the brain and impact a number of neurotransmitters.
Q. Wait what’s a neurotransmitter? A. It’s a chemical messenger that allows one neuron (a nerve cell) to talk to another neuron, brain or muscle cell).
The neurotransmitters CB1 receptors act on are:
CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are mostly found within the immune system and blood cells and aren’t associated with getting high. However, they potentially play an even more interesting role, with CB2 receptor dysfunction associated with almost all disease affecting humans – from cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, liver, kidney, neurodegenerative, psychiatric, bone and skin disease as well as pain and even cancer.
It’s important to note that some CB1 receptors are located outside the brain, and some CB2 receptors can be found within the brain. So, there is some overlap.
There are two different types of cannabinoids that can activate these receptors in your body:
To sum all of this up in practical terms… Low levels of endocannabinoids = disease
There is an increasing amount of research linking a number of illnesses and symptoms to low endocannabinoids levels, including:
Some researchers are convinced that when your body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids you’re more likely to develop these diseases.
This led to terms being coined like “clinical endocannabinoid deficiency” and “endocannabinoid tone” to describe the health of a person’s endocannabinoid system and potentially to use as a way to measure overall health as well.
The endocannabinoid system and stress
If there’s one thing most of us can agree on, it’s that we’re all stressed. And whether it’s a small thing like getting stuck in traffic, or major stressors like losing a loved one, we encounter stress in one form or another on a daily basis. Fascinating research has identified that the endocannabinoid system plays a major role in the way our body responds to stress.
This could have major implications for how we diagnose and treat illnesses. Almost every health problem out there—including extremely common ones like anxiety, depression, heart disease, GI issues, asthma, and headaches—can be exacerbated by stress and are likely even caused by it.
So cannabinoids are the keys to our endocannabinoid system’s locks. There are over 120 cannabinoids found in cannabis and other plants, plus 5 known endocannabinoids made naturally by our body. There’s lots more to learn, but we do know that not only can cannabinoids like THC get us high, others like CBD and 2-AG can help to reduce stress and anxiety, regulate serotonin levels in our gut, support our immune system and help us sleep, ultimately equipping us to manage daily stressors better and improve our health.