The Endocannabinoid System Links the Body and the Mind

CBD oil may soon be among the most popular supplements of our day and age.

Since the discovery of the human endocannabinoid system, scientists have become increasingly aware of just how critical this network is to our health.  CBD plays a very important role in the endocannabinoid system (ECS).  Awareness of the ECS is spreading rapidly among consumers, and the use of CBD is constantly rising.

Because the popularity has grown at such a rapid pace, there is a lot of misinformation around the web about the endocannabinoid system.  Let’s take a closer look today at how it really works.

The Endocannabinoid System Explained

The endocannabinoid system is another of Nature’s wonders at work within the human body.  It plays a role in the operation of many of our bodies’ vital functions.  The system consists of 3 basic parts:  Endocannabinoids, cell-receptors, and enzymes.

Endocannabinoids are “messenger molecules” produced inside the brain (endo = within).  These molecules are produced when needed and shuttled to various locations around the body containing cell-receptors.  The receptors receive the information within the molecules, and this signals a response within the body.  This allows the body to adapt to various internal and external stimuli.  After the signal has been received, the endocannabinoid’s job is done.  Enzymes are formed, which break down the molecules and allow them to be released.   The entire process is designed to help the body maintain a state of healthy balance.

Incredibly, as with all involuntary bodily processes, this all takes place without our awareness!  The endocannabinoid system is just another piece of the mind-body puzzle that works to the benefit of our own health on a daily basis.

How Does the Endocannabinoid System Affect Our Health?

Most areas of the body contain cannabinoid receptors.  This clues us into how essential the ECS really is.  There are two primary types of receptors that have been identified.  CB1 cell receptors are present in the brain, central nervous system, as well as other glands and organs.  CB2 cell receptors are found mainly in the immune system, and the organs and tissues related to it.   CB1 and CB2 receptors can exist in the same tissues.

Scientists originally discovered the ECS while researching THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid).  Because of this, they initially believed that the endocannabinoid system was limited to the brain and central nervous system.  Since then, however, it became clear that most other areas of the body also contain (CB2) cell receptors.  Therefore, the entire ECS and its far-reaching potential are much greater than they first realized.

Besides its role in maintaining homeostasis (that state of healthy balance that the body is continually seeking), the ECS seems to have many other roles.  Here are some of the major functions that the ECS appears to be connected to:

  • Sleep cycle
  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Metabolism
  • Appetite
  • Liver function
  • Motor control
  • Skin and nerve function
  • Mood and stress
  • Learning and memory

This list is not exhaustive.  As research continues, we are learning that the endocannabinoid system seems to play a role in almost all areas of the human body.  It’s an essential component of our well-being in many ways.

The ECS Links the Body and the Mind

Some interesting and exciting findings have been made recently into the enormous role the ECS plays in linking the body and the mind.  Researchers in the field will admit that there is still so much to learn about the endocannabinoid system.  Scientists hope to learn about the many ways that this complex network functions.  There is hope that in the future, the upcoming knowledge can be even used to enhance the efficacy of pharmaceuticals.

In an article for NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), Dr. Dustin Sulak elaborates on the mind-body connection as it relates to the ECS.  He states, “the endocannabinoid system, with its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and all of the body’s organs, is literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system we begin to see a mechanism that explains how states of consciousness can promote health or disease.”

Dr. Nicholas V. DiPatrizio, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the UCR School of Medicine, has done extensive research on endocannabinoids and the Gut-Brain Axis.  His team’s studies have illuminated that there is more than just a link between the brain and the digestive system (gut).  Their research has shown that the endocannabinoid system plays a key role in the relationship.  Whereas scientists knew that the brain has the ability to modify reactions within the gut, it is now understood that with endocannabinoids, the gut is also able to modify the brain.  The experience of how Dr. DiPatrizio and his mentor came to this conclusion is described in this article for The Scientist.

Exciting research continues to open the door to understanding the complexities of the endocannabinoid system and its vital role in human health.

What Effect Does CBD Have on the ECS?

This begs the question — how can CBD be used to enhance the role of the endocannabinoid system?

Without the ECS, there would be no use for CBD at all.  Our bodies produce endocannabinoids as a part of the inner workings of our own system.  But cannabinoids are also produced in the cannabis plant and CBD is being widely used now as an external source in order to boost the responsiveness of the ECS.

As we’ve stated, the newly emerging research still needs time to fully grasp the ways in which this may be possible.  More is known about the ways in which THC interacts with the endocannabinoid system.  The psychoactive cannabinoid THC binds to CB1 receptors within the brain has an overstimulating effect.  This is known as a high.  CBD has not been shown to bind to either CB1 or CB2 receptors anywhere within the ECS.

Perhaps, scientists hypothesize, the way that CBD promotes homeostasis is through the fact that they do not bind to the cell receptors.  It is possible that, when introduced into the system, CBD prevents the breakdown of the naturally-occurring endocannabinoids.  This would allow the endocannabinoids to have a positive effect on the system for a longer amount of time before they are broken down.  There is also a likely possibility that the ECS contains within it other cannabinoid receptors which have yet to be discovered.

One thing is certain.  CBD supplementation increases the number of endocannabinoids in the system.  Therefore, it potentially boosts all of the health benefits of a smoothly-running ECS.  It promotes homeostasis, and that is a balanced state of well-being that the body intrinsically desires.

Is There Such Thing as an Endocannabinoid Deficiency?

Lastly, let’s touch on the subject of endocannabinoid deficiency.  It is possible for dysfunction to exist within the ECS.  In this case, an individual would not be able to produce the number of endocannabinoids needed for the system to function smoothly.  This can lead to various unwanted ailments.

The journal titled Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research published a review, which fully discusses the causative effect that a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency might have on patients.  It notes that such a deficiency could lead to conditions such as migraines, IBS, fibromyalgia, and others.  Research into this aspect of the subject could potentially shed light on a fuller understanding of conditions such as these and hopefully lead to better treatments.

It would be premature to make specific health claims in regards to how CBD improves the function of the endocannabinoid system at this time.  We know, from both early and anecdotal research, that it potentially can have a very positive impact.  For now, we know that an improvement in general well-being can be experienced through the use of CBD supplements.  We are eager to know exactly how it all works in the near future.