What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system, commonly referred to as the ECS, is a complex cell signalling system believed to be million years of years old, though it was only discovered by science in the 1990’s, when researchers were inspired to find out why and how cannabis affects the body.
The study of the ECS is therefore a relatively new science, but it is now widely accepted that the ECS is the master system which regulates other systems in the body, enabling the maintenance of balance and biological harmony, often referred to as homeostasis.
Science has shown that the ECS influences all other body systems, having a major role in;
- Anxiety and depression
- Digestion (including IBS)
- Learning and memory
- Bone growth
- Liver function
- Cardiovascular function
- Nerve function
- Reproductive function
- Foetal Development
- Muscle development
- Skin function
- Motor control
- And more…
What does the ECS consist of?
The ECS is made up of three parts;
- The endocannabinoid molecules themselves (endogenous cannabinoids – made in the body)
- Cannabinoid receptors
- Enzymes that create and breakdown the endocannabinoids
Endocannabinoids are lipid signalling molecules, also known as lipid mediators. Several different endocannabinoids have been discovered, but the two that we know the most about so far are;
- N-arachidonoyl-ethanolamide, commonly referred to as anandamide, AEA, or the Bliss Molecule (Ananda means Bliss in Sanskrit),
- 2-arachidonoyl glycerol, commonly referred to as 2-AG .
Scientific research is finding that many common diseases involve a deficiency in endocannabinoids as they also play a major role in regulating inflammation, pain and immunity.
There are several different types of cannabinoid receptors in the body too, the most abundant type are referred to as CB1 receptors, we also know quite a lot about CB2.
- CB1 receptors are found mostly in the Central Nervous System (CNS)
- CB2 receptors are mostly found in the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) and immune cells.
Both AEA and 2-AG and other cannabinoids can bind to both of these and other receptors, resulting in a wide range of effects, depending on the combination of the type of cannabinoid, the type of receptor and it’s location.
There are many enzymes involved in the production and degradation of endocannabinoids, but two that are currently attracting the most interest are:
- FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase), which breaks down Anandamide
- MGL (monoacylglycerol acid lipase), which typically breaks down 2-AG
The reason these two are of most interest is because inhibiting the production of the these enzymes, thus enabling higher levels of endocannabinoids in the body, has been shown to have a positive effect on health.
Inhibition of FAAH means higher level of anandamide, which in turn means more happiness, a greater sense of peace and well being, and less anxiety and fear. High anandamide levels are also important for ovulation and foetal development as well as many other bodily functions.
Inhibition of MGL means higher levels of 2-AG, and has been linked to less pain, less inflammation, less cancer, less depression and other psychiatric disorders, and less neurological disorders, including several eye conditions.
The ECS has captured my attention because of its vital role in regulating all other body systems, maintaining homeostasis, maintenance of health and wellbeing and prevention of disease. Like many people, I personally have been impacted by anxiety and poor sleep and also manage neuropathic pain with food and lifestyle.
Those of you who follow our work at Tolman Health may be familiar with the Tolman methodology of supporting the different body systems with foods, herbs, oils, emotional work, cleanses, and activities. My intention is to create a similar set of guidelines for nurturing the ECS. Although the use of phytocannabinoids maybe considered, my primary focus will be on natural ways we can enhance our own production of endocannabinoids and decrease their degradation.
My hypothesis is that this, along with implementing the 7 Principles of Health, will help people to be healthier, happier and create more Bliss for themselves and others.
Future blog posts will explore each of these areas in more detail.