The Endocannabinoid System
What is it and what does it have to do with me?
To fully understand the endocannabinoid system, one must have a good understanding of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the widely accepted concept that most if not all biological systems are regulated to actively maintain conditions within the body at a extremely consistent degree. The conditions and circumstances must be just right for our bodies cells to maintain and perform at optimum performance. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the vital molecular system that holds them all together.
Playing such a crucial role, the ECS is widespread throughout not just humans but every vertebrate species on earth. Three main components can be seen to make up the ECS. These are:
*Endocannabinoids - which are small molecules that activate cannabioid receptors
*Cannabinoid receptors - which are found on the surface of the cells
*Metabolic enzymes - responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they have been used.
These receptors sit atop the surface of cells and gather conditional information outside of the cells. They then begin to transmit information about changing conditions to the inner portion of the cell, allowing it to start appropriating the correct cellular response.
There are two major cannabinoid receptors referred to as: CB1 and CB2. These are the two most studied of the many, many more in the human body. CB1 receptors are located in the brain and are one of the most abundant receptor types in the brain. CB2 receptors are more abundant in places outside of the nervous system, such as the immune system. They are both however found throughout the body.
These are molecules that, like the cannabinoid THC, bind to and activate the cannabinoid receptors. Unlike THC, endocannabinoids are produced NATURALLY by cells in the human body. The two major endocannabinoids are 2-AG and anandamide. Made of fat-like molecules within cell membranes, synthesized on-demand. Meaning they are produced and used exactly when they are needed by the body and not produced then simply stored.
The last part of this triad are metabolic enzymes which quickly destroy endocannabinoids once they have been used to capacity. The two enzymes responsible for this are FAAH, which breaks down used anandamide, and MAGL, the enzyme responsible for 2-AG. This process is done to ensure the proper use of endocannabinoids when needed but not longer than required.
These three essential components of the ECS are found within almost every major system of the body. When a condition brings a cell out of its preferred state, these three pieces of the ECS are called upon to help bring the needed cells back to the "preferred conditions".
How does the Endocannabinoid System work?
The discovery of the endocannabinoid system has become something remarkable in the medical field. This is a system that is encoded into the dna of every living vertebrate and many non vertebrate animals. It is responsible for maintaining homeostasis on a molecular level, a literal life or death situation. The signaling system of the ECS includes receptors, that in turn have certain enzymes and molecules that bind with these receptors. These molecules are called endocannabinoids or ligands. Studies have proven that our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids.
Receptors for the ECS are found throughout the body, including the brain, immune cells, organs, glands, and connective tissues. Again it is not an isolated structure, it is spread throughout the body with its receptors being acted on by ligands or endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids work broadly as neuromodulators therefore regulating a wide scope of physiological processes from fertility to pain.
When the ECS is at a deficiency the body struggles to reach its desired balance. Since the ECS is involved directly with chronic pain, uncontrolled inflammation, digestive problems, as well as seizures, anxiety, and depression one can begin to see the vast importance of this system.