The endocannabinoid system (also known as ECS) works all over your body, interacting with all of your other bodily systems. Its main function is to maintain balance in your body by creating the ideal conditions for your cells to work optimally. Though more research needs to be completed on the endocannabinoid system, experts believe it plays a role in a range of functions, including sleep, mood, and appetite. CBD works by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system. Consumers who are seeking relief from a range of conditions, from anxiety to chronic pain, are utilizing CBD in the hope of benefiting from the potential balancing effects that may result from CBD’s effects on the endocannabinoid system.
What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) was only identified about 30 years ago. In the early 1990s, researchers were studying how THC effects the body, and they stumbled upon a brand-new bodily system. Since then, many studies have been performed on the endocannabinoid system, but researchers are still trying to fully understand the system’s complexities. A 2018 review published in The International Journal of Molecular Sciences complied information known about the endocannabinoid system, stating that researchers have linked the ECS to the following processes:
- immune response
These functions all relate to balance in the body. For instance, if you get sick, your immune system kicks in to fight off the disease and return the body back to its regular state. These functions are also those which tend to go haywire when stress, illness, or other outside factors overtax them.
How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?
The endocannabinoid system is made up of receptors which turn on or off due to specific molecules (called endocannabinoids) that your body naturally produces. Two of the most important receptors are called CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptor is activated by a chemical called AEA. Another chemical called 2-AG stimulates both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptor is responsible for controlling functions in the body, including sleep, appetite, mood, and pain. The CB2 receptor controls inflammation and the body’s immune response.
Another part of the endocannabinoid system is the vanilloid receptor (also known as the TRPV-1 receptor). This receptor has been found to be responsible for regulating pain, mood, and inflammation. Lastly, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for producing specific enzymes that break down the endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their job.
How Does THC Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?
Tetrahydrocannabinol, most commonly known as THC, is one of the cannabinoids found in cannabis. THC is the molecule that causes the “high” associated with marijuana. THC interacts with your endocannabinoid system by directly binding to your body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors, just like the endocannabinoids your body naturally produces.
The binding of THC to the CB1 and CB2 receptors produces powerful results in your body. Some users of THC infused products report feeling euphoria, peace, improved sleep and reduced pain. In some instances (and in cases where too much THC is consumed), users can feel disoriented, dizzy, and relaxed. In rare cases, users report a feeling of paranoia and anxiety.
How Does CBD Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is another cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp. CBD works with the endocannabinoid system a little differently than THC. While THC binds directly to the CB1 receptors, CBD doesn’t. Instead, CBD signals the endocannabinoids your body already produces to activate these receptors. For example, when you take CBD, it triggers the endocannabinoid system to produce more 2-AG. Then, this chemical stimulates both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, enhancing their effects on the body. Because it doesn’t bind directly with these receptors, CBD doesn’t produce the same kind of debilitating effects as THC. Instead, it’s believed to produce more natural-feeling effects that simply promote balance and homeostasis in the body rather than an extreme “high” feeling.
CBD also interacts with the enzymes your body produces that typically break down the endocannabinoids once they’ve performed their function. CBD inhibits these enzymes, blocking them from rapidly breaking down those endocannabinoids. This allows the endocannabinoids more time to remain in your body, so their balancing effects may last longer in your body.
Additionally, although CBD does not interact directly with either CB1 or CB2, it does seem to directly stimulate the vanilloid receptor. Studies performed on rats, including a 2004 study published in The British Journal of Pharmacology and a 2017 study published in Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, found that this receptor is responsible for reducing pain and anxiety. In this study, researchers found that CBD had a direct impact on this receptor.
The endocannabinoid system is a complex system that we don’t yet fully understand. More research is needed to determine how the endocannabinoid system works and what effects result from outside influences on its receptors, but CBD may work by interacting with this system in unique and interesting ways.