CBD and the Endocannabinoid System

If you’re familiar with CBD, there’s a high probability that you’ve also heard of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Though it was discovered in the 1990s, supporting the ECS has gained popularity over the last few years as a natural way to maximize overall health. 

The ECS acts as the body’s balancing system that helps to keep our minds and regulatory functions working to maximum efficiency. When that system has issues, we can develop symptoms and conditions that inform us that we need to take a deeper look at what’s going on. Here, we explore exactly how it works — and what you can do to keep yours running smoothly.

Endocannabinoid System – Bringing Balance To Our Bodies and Minds

Right now the ECS is working tirelessly to bring homeostasis, or balance, to our bodies and minds. It does this by regulating all physiological activity in the body  — everything from sleep and appetite to memory and mood, including stress and anxiety. 

You can think of the ECS like the conductor of the orchestra, making sure every instrument is playing in harmony with the rest. Yet, thirty years after scientists discovered the ECS, most medical schools don’t cover it — why? This is partly because of the intrinsic link between the endocannabinoid system and the cannabis plant. In fact, it’s because of the cannabis plant that we know it exists at all. 

Finding the CB1 Receptor

In the late 1980s, THC was the most widely studied compound in cannabis. Scientists were trying to discover why it had its psychoactive effect. They suspected that there must be some as yet to-be-discovered receptors which, when activated by THC, set off the “high” or “stoned” feeling we commonly associate with cannabis. Their theory was proven correct with the discovery of the CB1 receptors in our brains and nervous systems.

The Search for Endocannabinoids

Next came the hunt to find cannabinoids made by the body (endogenous), that also bind with these CB1 receptors. In 1992, a team of scientists discovered the first endocannabinoid. They named it anandamide after the Sanskrit word for bliss because the team suspected it caused a feeling of well-being. Three years later, another endocannabinoid was found. Like anandamide, 2-AG activates the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the peripheral organs and immune system. 

Why the ECS is So Important

The question remains: if there are millions of receptors and cannabis-like chemicals produced in our bodies, what are they there for? In basic terms, a functioning endocannabinoid system is key to optimum health.

The ECS is a vast communication network with the purpose of correcting any imbalances in our bodies and minds. It is involved in regulating practically every biological function including appetite, sleep, memory, reproduction, mood, sexual arousal, the immune system, and cell growth. Martin Lee from Project CBD likens the ECS to a dimmer switch, turning up or down cell activity in order to bring about homeostasis — the state of balance required for optimum health.  

Not only that, in almost every case of illness, there is some instance of endocannabinoid misregulation. Sometimes this can be a cause of disease, while in others, it’s a sign that the body is trying to heal itself.

Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome

It’s known that modern day lifestyle factors such as stress, lack of sleep, alcohol and poor diet as well as environmental toxins/chemical pollutants can impede our endocannabinoid system. They affect what’s known as endocannabinoid tone. American Neuroscientist and Cannabinoid Researcher, Dr. Ethan Russo, has postulated that many 21st century illnesses categorized by an oversensitivity to discomfort could be caused by endocannabinoid deficiency. These include migraines, fibromyalgia, IBS and even multiple sclerosis. 

Measuring endocannabinoid levels in our bodies isn’t a straightforward task, as they are only produced on demand and their uptake is almost instantaneous. However, Russo’s research suggests introducing cannabinoids from cannabis and hemp can assist in addressing this endocannabinoid deficiency. This helps to explain how CBD can be useful. 

Can CBD Boost the Endocannabinoid System? 

Though the ECS was discovered because of THC, CBD derived from hemp is a legal way of enjoying the endocannabinoid benefits of cannabis without the intoxicating side effects. 

Though it takes a subtler approach than THC, CBD benefits the body in a number of ways. It binds allosterically (meaning at a secondary site, not at the primary binding site) with the CB1 receptor to improve the overall functionality of the endocannabinoid system. CBD enhances endocannabinoid tone by blocking Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH), the enzyme responsible for breaking anandamide down in our bodies. By impairing FAAH activity, it is suggested CBD allows anandamide to be present longer in the brain’s synapses, giving the endocannabinoid more time to do its mood-boosting and symptom-soothing good work. 


The Future of CBD

Though there needs to be more research to make more information available about all the potential uses for CBD, the future looks bright. There are studies emerging that help to uncover new understandings of how CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, which will help bring the cannabinoid further into the forefront of alternative treatment. It’s already becoming a staple in the wellness and self-care world and shows no signs of stopping. 

Interested in learning if CBD is right for you? Take our quiz to learn how you can incorporate CBD products into your routine.