Although the biological components of the endocannabinoid system are well known and have been explored in detail over many decades, its significance seems to enlarge with every new experimental study.
If someone asked you to describe the digestive system, the respiratory system or the nervous system, chances are you could easily describe their purpose and, most likely, tick off the major organs involved. Very few people can do the same with the endocannabinoid system — typically abbreviated as ECS — and with good reason. Despite decades of scientific study, researchers have just begun to comprehend the role of the ECS and the potential benefits of cannabinoids in supporting physical and mental wellness.
That said, if you’re launching a new cannabidiol (CBD) product or brand, it’s vital that you understand the basic underpinnings of the ECS. While you must take care not to claim unsubstantiated health benefits on labels, knowing about the ECS will empower you to educate your customers about how hemp-based products might support their health and well-being.
Endocannabinoid System 101
The ECS is a network of chemical signals and receptors that are located within the brain and throughout the body. The ECS was discovered in the 1990s by scientists exploring how tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, one of the best-known cannabinoids, affects the body. This vast system helps regulate and control many of our most critical bodily functions — including breathing, eating, pain control, sleep and memory. It does this by controlling the level and activity of most of the other neurotransmitters your body relies on to tell your brain when your body needs food, sleep or even a blanket.
The Many Roles of the ECS
The primary role of the ECS appears to be regulating your bodily functions across all the major systems, helping to ensure that all of them are working together. Scientists refer to it as “maintaining homeostasis” — literally, keeping your body in balance. So far, research suggests that the ECS plays a role in the regulation of:
- Learning and memory.
- Bone health.
- Immune function.
- Skin health.
- Stress response.
- Liver function.
- Reproductive system function.
There are Two Parts to the ECS
Endocannabinoids are molecules produced by your body that are similar to the compounds found in cannabis. They bind to cannabinoid receptor type 1 and cannabinoid receptor type 2 (often abbreviated as CB1 and CB2) to help keep your internal functions running smoothly. Scientists have so far identified two endocannabinoids: anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglyerol.
- Anandamide, also commonly called AEA and the “bliss molecule,” interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid receptors much the same way that THC does, binding to them to trigger the release of certain chemicals that help regulate bodily functions, as listed above. In fact, the name of this molecule is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which translates as joy, bliss or delight. Anandamide was first described by Raphael Mechoulam, who was the first to isolate THC nearly 30 years earlier, and his lab members, W. A. Devane and Lumir Hanus.
- 2-arachidonoylglyerol, commonly called 2-AG, interacts with the endocannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system and immune system, where it is thought to play a role in emotion, cognition, energy levels, and more. 2-AG was first isolated and described by Mechoulam’s team in 1994-1995.
Endocannabinoid receptors are located on the surface of cells throughout your body. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids bind to them and signal the ECS to take some sort of action.
Scientists have positively identified two types of ECS receptors: CB1 receptors are concentrated in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors are generally found in the peripheral nervous system. Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor, and the effect depends on both the location of the receptor and the endocannabinoid doing the binding.
Cannabinoids: The Keys to Unlocking the ECS
The major cannabinoids — THC and CBD — interact differently with the ECS. THC, the psychotropic cannabinoid that gets you high, has the ability to bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, simulating the effects of the body’s own cannabinoids. CBD, on the other hand, acts on the receptors but doesn’t bind directly to them. Instead, some scientists think it may support homeostasis by regulating the breakdown of endocannabinoids.
What Are Phytocannabinoids?
Phytocannabinoids are, quite simply, cannabinoids derived from plants. They include CBD, cannabigerol (known as CBG), and cannabichromene (known as CBC), as well as all the other cannabinoids that exist naturally in the plant. CBG and CBC are two non-psychoactive cannabinoids that interact with the ECS. They seem to work by moderating the effects of the body’s own cannabinoids by helping them stick around longer and/or by activating the receptors which signal the body to make more of them. In doing so, CBG and CBC help support your body’s natural ability to protect and balance itself by activating and/or prolonging the effects of endocannabinoids.
A Well-Positioned Wellness Line
When promoting a natural wellness product line, it’s helpful to highlight ingredients contained in your product and their physiological relevance. GenCanna can help you boost the value of your brand by defining and developing botanical blends that are meaningful to consumers and profitable for you.
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International Journal of Molecular Sciences — Functional Fine-Tuning of Metabolic Pathways by the Endocannabinoid System
Nutrition Research Reviews — The Endocannabinoid System and Appetite: Relevance for Food Reward
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International Journal of Molecular Sciences — The Endocannabinoid/Endovallinoid System in Bone: From Osteoporosis to Osteosarcoma
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America — Endocannabinoid System Acts as a Regulator of Immune Homeostasis in the Gut
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International Journal of Molecular Sciences — Endocannabinoid System in Hepatic Glucose Metabolism, Fatty Liver Disease and Cirrhosis
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Harvard Health Publishing — The Endocannabinoid System: Essential and Mysterious