It is quickly becoming common knowledge that all humans and almost all living creatures have an Endocannabinoid System (ECS). But what happens when this internal system has flaws or is not running at full potential? Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED) is characterized by low levels of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. It is potentially responsible for a variety of overlying medical disorders. There is significant research that suggests medical cannabis, especially cannabidiol (CBD), may be effective at treating CED.
What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?
In school, we learned about the 11 major systems of the body. However, there is a major system in the body that we didn’t learn about. This is the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Its discovery was in the late 1980s when scientists were researching how marijuana works within the body.
Ther are a couple of reason why we never learned about the ECS in our textbooks. The main reason is that studying the ECS revolves around cannabis.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government lists cannabis as a schedule 1 drug. This drastically limits any research or studies involving cannabis. Scientists are still in the process of figuring out much about the ECS. However, the fact is that the ECS exists. Hopefully, once it goes through the proper procedures perhaps then we will see it in standard textbooks. For now, let’s continue looking at what we do know about the ECS and CED.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a regulatory and control system. It is responsible for the proper functioning of several important processes in the mammalian body. These include:
- Metabolic function
- Digestion and the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract)
- Immune system
- Sleep cycles
- Emotional states and moods
- Inflammation and/or pain
- Neurological function
Furthermore, the ECS is comprised of three integrated mechanisms:
- Endocannabinoids – These are compounds that your body naturally produces. Every creature with an ECS produces endocannabinoids naturally within their system.
- Cannabinoid receptors – These are binding sites that interact with the endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids thereby activating the various processes in the ECS.
- Enzymes – These are metabolic compounds that are responsible for creating and breaking down cannabinoids.
When these mechanisms integrate and work properly with each other, they are responsible for the overall function of the ECS.
What are Cannabinoids?
Now that we know that Endocannabinoids are one of the primary mechanisms of the ECS, we can move forward. Endocannabinoids belong to a general category of compounds known as cannabinoids.
The two most common and widely known cannabinoids are:
This is the cannabinoid that most people are familiar with. THC is the primary active compound found in marijuana and has various medicinal qualities. It is psychoactive, meaning that it causes intoxication when you ingest it. It is not physically addictive, although users may develop a psychological dependency.
This is the second most common cannabinoid. Various studies indicate that it has a wide range of medicinal qualities. In fact, a 2016 study from the peer-reviewed journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences indicates that it may have even more benefits than THC, although it does not directly activate cannabinoid receptors in the ECS. CBD is not psychoactive and has very few side effects.
Furthermore, cannabinoids can be broken down into the following general categories:
These are the cannabinoids your body naturally produces (“endo-” means “within” in Greek). The two most common endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Anandamide is especially important as it governs moods and emotional states via the ECS (many people refer to it as “the bliss molecule”). Taking CBD can help increase the number of endocannabinoids like Anandamide by slowing down the speed at which enzymes break the anandamide down. This is why research suggests CBD may help with stress, anxiety, and depression.
These are the active components found mostly in the cannabis plant. Cannabis has approximately 113 different cannabinoids. THC and CBD are both phytocannabinoids. There is a