WHAT IS THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM? From glowing skin, free from long-standing troubles; deep, restorative sleep each and every night; a mind and body that is focused, calm and energised in a fast-paced era – the wellbeing world’s favourite supplement, CBD, has garnered the attention of millions of people all over the globe for what seems to be just about any issue. Those new to CBD and the other 120+ cannabinoids found within the cannabis sativa plant might well be wondering how one thing could possibly be so spectacular. How is it that this plant, which has been so controversial for so long, is being used with great success in such a huge variety of ways by an estimated (and ever-growing) 1.3M people in the UK alone, and around 42 million Americans?
It may all seem too good to be true. But in reality, there is very good reason why high quality hemp derived CBD products have the potential to deliver incredible and far reaching results. It all comes down to the endocannabinoid system that can be found inside each and every one of us.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is, simply put, possibly the most important physiological system within the human body, along with other major networks including the immune system, nervous system and digestive system. This complex, cell-signalling network and its receptors spans every inch of us, within those other systems, in almost every skin cell throughout all of our bones, muscles, organs and more. It’s heavily indicated in many bodily processes including mood, sleep, appetite, fertility, memory, fine-tuning most of our physiological functions. Keeping this system working just as it should is vital in establishing and maintaining human health.
We produce our own version of the phytocannabinoids found in the hemp plant, called endocannabinoids. Most famously Anandamide, named after the Sanskrit word for ‘bliss’ thanks to it’s ability to reduce pain, inflammation and send feelings of euphoria among many other attributes. But the human body works in such a way that when Anandamide is released, an enzyme (FAAH) quickly gets to work breaking it down, limiting how far it can get and what it can do. Moreover, stress, lack of sleep, poor diet and many other things that impact our health on a daily basis can prevent us from producing enough of our endocannabinoids, potentially leading to a full body imbalance referred to as ‘endocannabinoid deficiency’. The result? Pretty much any health and wellbeing concern you can think of.
Despite being so crucial, the ECS was only discovered in 1992 when scientists delved into how psychoactive THC affects the human body. What they found was far beyond what anyone could have imagined – not only an extensive network, but a completely unique interaction between THC and this newly discovered system. As further studies followed, the role that CBD and all other cannabinoids play came to light, although as this is such a young science we’re still only at the cusp of discovering what our complete relationship with this plant is and the good it can do.
What we do know, is that THC mimics Anandamide without being broken down by fitting into our endocannabinoid receptors like a lock and key. This is partly responsible for the sensation of getting high when using THC laden marijuana. You won’t find any THC in our products, but what you will find is lots of CBD, which rather than slotting into those receptors, attaches itself neatly alongside it, altering the shape to stop Anandamide settling in which results in a free-flowing bliss molecule that we have naturally created. What’s more, CBD also inhibits the FAAH enzyme responsible for breaking Anandamide down, so it’s bliss inducing, healing effects can be felt further, stronger and longer.
When your body is out of balance and producing uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, acne, hot flashes, aches and pains, one of the best things you can do to help yourself is to restore equilibrium. Using CBD on a regular basis has been shown to help your body do just this, nudging it gently to bring itself back to centre.
What are the endocannabinoid receptors?
There is still so much to discover about the ECS, but so far we are most familiar with two fundamental receptors: CB1 and CB2. These can be found throughout the body, in almost every skin cell, mast cells, in your brain, in your bones, in your gut, in your reproductive system…everywhere. And each receptor has an absolutely enormous impact on the way we feel, physically and mentally. The scientist Dr Ethan Russo responsible for the current endocannabinoid deficiency theory says: “If you don’t have enough endocannabinoids you have pain where there shouldn’t be pain. You would be sick, meaning nauseated. You would have a lowered seizure threshold. And just a whole litany of other problems.”
The CB1 receptors take care of appetite, mood, sleep, memory and perception (to name a few). CB2 receptors are most commonly found throughout the immune system and therefore largely control inflammation, pain and our immune response to pathogens. When you use a CBD product, you are giving your body a toolkit to alter these receptors and the impact that are having. Better still, as these receptors (and a many others besides) are so widespread, the effect is truly holistic, as CBD produces many different effects through a variety of molecular pathways and activates or binds to multiple receptors throughout the body. Essentially meaning it will go where it is needed and help your body do what needs to be done to restore homeostasis, which is why one person can have such a different CBD experience to the next.
As you can probably imagine, this overview is just scratching the surface of the complexities of the ECS. In future blogs, we’ll be looking at sister endocannabinoid 2-AG (which has been linked to our emotions, protection from seizure and cardiovascular health), ever-evolving ECS findings and further effects CBD and other cannabinoids have on your body. It’s an extremely exciting time in the world of CBD and we’re delighted to be able to share it with you!