Endo-canna-what? If you’ve never heard of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), you’re not alone. Researchers have been discovering pieces of the ECS since 1988, and it wasn’t until the late 1990’s, when they began putting together information from multiple individuals and research groups, that they realized we have another biological system that we never knew about: the endocannabinoid system.
First, let’s break down its name: endo-cannabin-oid. “Endo” is short for “endogenous,” which means we’re talking about things produced naturally within our bodies. “Cannabin” comes from “cannabis,” a type of flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family. And “-oid” is simply a suffix that means one thing has the qualities of (or resembles) another thing. So, if we put that all together, endocannabinoid means our bodies produce cannabis-like chemicals naturally. This may sound surprising, but it simply speaks to how humans and plants are interconnected.
The endocannabinoid system has 3 parts:
– Cannabinoid receptors
Endocannabinoids (endogenous cannabinoids) are naturally occurring neurotransmitters—the body’s chemical messengers that send signals between nerve cells.
Cannabinoid receptors are found on the surface of cells throughout the body. When endocannabinoids bind or attach to these receptors, a message is sent to the endocannabinoid system to initiate a response.
There are two types of cannabinoid receptors that we are currently aware of: CB1 and CB2 (researchers suspect there may be a third type but have yet to determine this conclusively).
CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain, lungs, vascular system, reproductive organs, and muscles. CB2 receptors are primarily found in the immune system (especially in the spleen and the gut/colon). Additionally, both CB1 and CB2 receptors are found in the liver, pancreas, and in our bones.
Enzymes are responsible for both synthesizing endocannabinoids and breaking them down once they have completed the necessary response in the body.
Collectively, these three parts make up the endocannabinoid system which interacts with every physiological system in our bodies:
– Cardiovascular system
– Digestive system
– Endocrine system
– Immune system
– Muscular system
– Nervous system
– Renal system
– Reproductive system
– Respiratory system
– Skeletal system
The endocannabinoid system’s primary objective is to provide a stable internal environment; it’s an adaptogenic system that helps our bodies function and adjust to an ever-changing environment. We rely on the ECS to regulate life-sustaining processes at the cellular level, like growth, maintenance, signaling and metabolism. You can think of the ECS as the conductor of our body’s orchestra—it communicates with all the physiological systems and initiates responses to keep the body’s systems in balance.