ECS – the endocannabinoid system

Here’s a little known fact: the human body produces naturally occurring cannabinoids. These are part of the ECS – the endocannabinoid system, which helps both balance and regulate the human body.

To clarify, the endocannabinoid system consists of:

(a) signals ~ known as ‘endogenous cannabinoids’ or ‘endocannabinoids’ ~ also known as neurotransmitters.

(b) receptors located on the membranes of all cells, that interact with the endocannabinoids; and

(c) enzymes involved in the formation and the breaking-down of the endocannabinoids.

Chemical Structure of AEA, 2-AG and THC (hydrocarbons)

AEA and 2-AG

(Above) The Chemical Structure of Two Well-Documented Endocannabinoids

A little bit of historical scientific data:

Believe it or not, the ECS was only discovered in 1988.
However, it wasn’t until 1992 when Anadamide, (a major endocannabionoid) was brought to the attention of the scientific community.

To date, two endocannabinoids have been identified in the human body, namely:
AEA  – Anandamide (arachidonoyl ethanolamide) and
2-AG  – 2-archidonoyl glycerol.

At this time, no other endocannabinoids have been identified, although many researchers believe that there are others, whose functions still remain unknown.

Cellular level diagram features then Capillary, Astrocyte, Neuron and Receptor reaction.

Flow of Stimuli

(Above) Stimulus travels through the body. Endocannabinoids are synthesized. These target and interact with the receptors. An appropriate reponse occurs.

So how do Cannabinoids Work?

Before we explain more – a word of caution – interactions of cannabinoids and receptors are complex. Different conditions at the cellular and molecular level can impact the resulting effects.

However, imagine if you will a constant ‘negative’ feedback loop.:

  • A stimulus occurs, the message is sent through the body.
  • The body initiates a range of corrective responses.
  • In order to ensure the responses aren’t over-the-top -the human body synthesizes and releases endocannabinoids to control these responses.
  • The endocannabinoids then target and interact with the cannabinoid receptors.
  • At this point, a balanced and regulated response occurs.

Unquestionably this is simplified, however let us use a real example to try and explain some of the steps involved here…

That is to say: imagine you’ve damaged your hand, as a result you’ve fractured a finger:

  • Your lymphatic system would help increase the blood flow and white blood cells to that region – in this case – the hand and finger.
  • At this juncture, ECS monitors the amounts of lymphatic ‘signals’ in the vicinity of your finger.
  • Subsequently, the body looks to ‘curb’ and control the amount of inflammation, preventing excessive swelling .
  • Endocannabinoids are synthesized and released.
  • All of a sudden, cannabinoid receptors in the surrounding immune tissues/cells interact with endocannabinoids.
  • Excessive inflammation responses are scaled back.
  • The swelling is slowly reduced.