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Basically, the endocannabinoid system is an essential biological network similar to the central nervous system and vital for the proper functioning of the body that is not limited to one organ or part of the body. Interestingly, it was discovered thanks to the use and users who consume cannabis regularly.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is made up of neurons, endocannabinoids, and cannabinoid receptors.

There are nerve cells called neurons throughout the brain and body, and they are linked together by neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are molecules called agonists that move from one neuron to another through the tiny space between them, called synapses.

Agonists connect to neuronal receptors and cause a chain reaction. In the case of the endocannabinoid system, these receptors are called CB1 (cannabinoid receptor 1) and CB2 (cannabinoid receptor 2).

CB1 receptors are found primarily in the brain, with some in the liver, lungs, and kidneys.

CB2 receptors are found throughout the body. There are more cannabinoid receptors in the brain than any other type of neuronal receptor.

A frequent analogy is that agonists are keys and receptors are locks. The ECS is a structure. It can only work if the pieces fit together.

The endocannabinoid system sends signals within the brain and through the body

Cannabinoids transmit signals from one neuron to another.

CB1 = cannabinoid receptor 1. Location: Mainly brain.

CB2 = cannabinoid receptor 2. Location: Body.

How does the endocannabinoid system work?

The ECS is activated by cannabinoids. Cannabinoids produced naturally by the body are known as endocannabinoids; and the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant are called phytocannabinoids.

The key and lock analogy mentioned above is based on the fact that CB1 and CB2 receptors are only activated by cannabinoids, not by any other type of agonist molecule. The 'keys' of the cannabinoids are the only ones that will fit in the 'locks' of the receptors.

CB1 receptors are activated by THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), so when we talk about the "head high" effect produced by sativa-dominant strains with high THC content.

CB2 receptors are activated by CBD (cannabidiol), which is non-psychoactive and is most associated with cannabis strains (and pure CBD products) that provide a relaxing, body-focused high.

What is the endocannabinoid system for?

The ECS regulates the body's systems to maintain homeostasis - the state of balance necessary to function properly.

For example:

  1. Blood sugar levels.

  2. Internal temperature.

  3. Blood pH levels.

  4. Regulation of the amount of water and minerals in the body, and elimination of metabolic waste are all regulated by homeostatic processes.

The ECS tells the body when to start a process (for example, sweat to lower your temperature) but also when to stop (otherwise, we would be sweating all the time).

The body constantly produces its own cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) to interact with its ECS, thus ensuring that homeostasis continues.

If not enough endocannabinoids are generated, it is believed that there may be a clinical deficiency of ECS. Furthermore, it is believed that this deficiency can be treated by the introduction of phytocannabinoids, something that humanity has done with varying degrees of therapeutic success since before recorded history.

The reason that cannabis can treat so many different diseases is that ECS spreads throughout the body and is responsible for the proper functioning of so many different parts and aspects of it.

ECS was only confirmed in the form we know it today (CB1 and CB2 receptors, activated by two known endocannabinoids) in 1995.

Many studies underscore the therapeutic benefits of combining THC and CBD especially in treating peripheral neuropathies, a painful condition associated with cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, arthritis, and other neurodegenerative ailments.


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