The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a highly complex biological system made up of endocannabinoids (also called endogenous cannabinoids). They are lipid-based neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. Two primary cannabinoid receptors were identified in the early 90’s, termed CB1 and CB2. While CB1 is found predominantly in the central nervous system and brain, CB2 is linked to immune system regulation. Endocannabinoids bind to, as well as activate, cannabinoid receptors. There are two main endocannabinoids: Anandamide (based on the Sanskrit word “ananda” meaning “inner bliss”) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol, or 2-AG. These two molecules are produced naturally by the cells in the body.

The ECS has been described by researchers as the most complicated and extensive signaling system in our bodies. It helps regulate everything from sleep, appetite, and inflammation to memory and mood. The role of the endocannabinoid system ensures that everything works in harmony with each other. It also explains why natural cannabinoids can have such a powerful healing effect.

There are three key components to the ECS, the cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids like we mentioned above, and metabolic enzymes that break down endocannabinoids after they’ve been used. These are FAAH and MAGL. These enzymes make sure the endocannabinoids are used when they are needed and also used for no longer than is necessary.

Inflammation is a natural protective measure the immune system uses in response to infection or physical damage. Its purpose is to remove pathogens or damaged tissue. Swelling of the inflamed area is produced by fluid and immune cells moving into the area to regenerate and return the tissue to it’s normal, healthy state. It is important that inflammation remained isolated to the location of damage and not persist longer than necessary. Inflammation that continues or returns repeatedly to the same area(s) is called chronic inflammation. Both chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases are examples of improper activation of the immune system. Enter endocannabinoids. These molecules seem to suppress the immune system’s inflammatory response.

If the human body were lacking the ECS, plant cannabinoids like THC and CBD would have zero effect. For example, THC creates a high because we have the CB1 receptor. CBD is also intriguing because it can affect overall levels of endocannabinoids in the body. It is furthermore shown to inhibit the FAAH enzyme, which is the enzyme that breaks down anandamide. This inhibition of the FAAH enzyme has been shown to be useful for treating certain mental disorders, like anxiety.

While we are still learning about the endocannabinoid system, science has established thus far that it is extremely important to the human body and brain. Supplementing with plant-based cannabinoids can help augment and balance this system, reduce inflammation, and help cellular systems to run more smoothly. That doesn’t mean supplementing is the right choice for everybody, however, and it is not a cure-all. Talk to your doctor and do your own research before deciding to supplement with plant-based cannabinoids.

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