What Is The Endocannabinoid System And How Does It Work?
There is a lot of buzz around cannabinoids such as Cannabidiol (CBD), the endocannabinoid system and CBD’s incredible ability to relieve a range of symptoms as well as its general health benefits. If you have ever wondered why and how this little molecule can be so effective, read on.
All vertebrates have a system called the endocannabinoid system, or ECS. It is this ECS that interacts with our body’s natural endocannabinoids (literally translating to internal cannabinoids) as well as with phytocannabinoids (plant-based cannabinoids), allowing us to experience the incredible therapeutic effects and health benefits associated with CBD.
HOMEOSTASIS: THE KEY TO HEALTH AND WELLNESS
To understand how the ECS works and the role it plays in health and wellness, it is useful to first understand the essential and fundamental biological concept of homeostasis.
In short, homeostasis is a narrow range of conditions within the body that is necessary for cells, tissues and biological systems to function properly. The more balanced, or homeostatic, these systems are, the more vital and healthy the body will be.
Needless to say, our bodies are constantly striving to remain within this biological “Goldilocks zone”, actively regulating various functions and systems within the body in an attempt to maintain optimal performance and health.
And this is where the ECS plays an important role: It is one of the most important systems that helps in maintaining homeostasis within the body.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM: A BIOLOGICAL DIMMER SWITCH
Brain cells, or neurons, communicate with each other and the rest of the body through a complex system of electrical signals and neurotransmitters.
Generally, when the brain sends a signal through the nervous system, chemicals called conventional or anterograde neurotransmitters carry this message from presynaptic nerves (“sender” cells) to postsynaptic nerves (“receiver” cells). This essentially creates a kind of chemical bridge, helping the electrical impulses travel down through the nervous system.
Sometimes this system can go haywire. If too much of a particular neurotransmitter is produced and/or it doesn’t get metabolized properly, homeostasis is disrupted, which can lead to an array of health problems and diseases.
In contrast, endocannabinoids belong to a special class of retrograde neurotransmitters – essentially working backwards, carrying messages from postsynaptic nerves to presynaptic nerves. This means that endocannabinoids help receiver nerves regulate how much input they are getting by travelling back towards the sender nerve, acting as a kind of dimmer switch.
In other words, the endocannabinoid system essentially mediates the entire nervous system, moderating the release and effects of other neurotransmitters and neural signals and helping to holistically restore homeostasis within the entire body.
THE ROLE OF PHYTOCANNABINOIDS IN THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
But, just like any other biological system, the ECS can also become dysfunctional. Sometimes it can happen that not enough endocannabinoids are produced, or even too much. This over or under release means that the ECS is unable to effectively mediate neural impulses, causing a variety of symptoms and ailments.
When phytocannabinoids such as CBD get introduced into the body, they function as a type of modulator to help kick-start the ECS, regulating the central nervous system and restoring that essential balance necessary for optimal health and wellness.
The best part? Because cannabinoids function as retrograde neurotransmitters, they get deployed exactly when and where they are needed. Once they have done their job, they get metabolized, meaning that they aren’t persisting in the body and leaving any after effects that can kick the system back and out of sync again.
The ECS is a crucial biological system that helps the body maintain homeostasis. When we understand how the ECS helps to maintain this crucial biological balance, we can come to recognize how a variety of cannabis-based therapies might actually work, as well as why phytocannabinoids such as CBD are so effective in helping people regain and maintain health and wellness.