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Understanding Cannabis: What Is The Endocannabinoid System?

A Basic Overview Of How The Endocannabinoid System Works

Regardless of whether you invest in companies across medical or recreational sectors, the cannabis industry only exists because of one fundamental biological system. That system is the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which has evolved inside humans over millions of years. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the fundamental principles of the ECS. 

The Endocannabinoid System Has Existed For Millions Of Years

While only discovered in the mid-‘90s, the endocannabinoid system has been present in humans, cats, dogs, and even goldfish for millions of years. The biological system is comprised of several endocannabinoids and dozens of cannabinoid receptors (CB1/CB2). Together, the endocannabinoid system, endocannabinoids, its receptors, and metabolic enzymes support the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis and keep all of our biological systems in a state of balance.

Although the body is capable of producing its own compounds (endocannabinoids) to influence the ECS, the endocannabinoid system is also impacted by external cannabinoids. These are the chemical compounds that exist within cannabis, and the main reason the plant can induce a wide range of effects when smoked, vaped, or ingested.

Receptors linked to the ECS can be found throughout the entire body. In fact, it would probably be easier to list the areas where receptors don’t exist, but to give you an idea of how extensive the ECS is, CB1 and CB2 receptors can be found in the following:

• Brain
• Liver
• Reproductive system
• Cardiovascular system
• Skeletal muscles
• GI tract
• Nervous system
• Immune system 

The Role Of The Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system exists to keep other biological systems in a state of harmony. If you imagine the entire system and its receptors as a hanging mobile, the ECS ensures that when the liver needs support, for example, it can tip one part of the mobile while keeping the other systems balanced at the same time. As the needs of the body change, so too does the balance of the endocannabinoid system.

However, no matter how much it tips in favour of one receptor or organ, it will always return to equilibrium. This is the primary reason no one has ever lethally overdosed on cannabis. Although the cannabinoids trigger a response from the ECS, as soon as the body processes the compounds, the system reverts to its original state.

Cannabinoids Activate CB Receptors

The endocannabinoid system can trigger a wide range of reactions; and while it can do this by itself, endocannabinoids are usually produced at minimal levels. What scientists have uncovered is that it is possible to encourage beneficial outcomes from the ECS via the cannabinoids within cannabis. CBD is a prime example, as the compound has been found to positively influence several biological functions by boosting the role of the ECS.

For these reactions to take place, cannabinoids and endocannabinoids need to have an entry point. To achieve this, the compounds interact with the previously mentioned CB1 and CB2 receptors. Cannabinoids and receptors work using a lock and key principle. The chemical structure of the cannabinoid dictates which receptor it can activate. This is why THC shows a particular affinity for CB1 receptors—it has the right shape to fit the “lock” of CB1.

Through the manipulation of cannabinoids and specific receptors, it is possible to stimulate an incredible variety of biological reactions. While THC is known for inducing a "high" due to its interaction with CB1 receptors in the brain, compounds like CBD can reduce inflammation through its interaction with receptors linked to our immune system. When you consider the prevalence of CB receptors and the existence of over a hundred different cannabinoids, it is safe to assume that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to possible combinations and outcomes.

Research On The ECS Grows By The Day

Despite the endocannabinoid system being an integral part of our physiology, there is still an incredible amount that we do not understand. Having only been discovered a few decades ago, research is still ongoing. This includes investigations into endocannabinoids, receptor activation, and the influence of external cannabinoids. As the true scope of the ECS is uncovered, we will undoubtedly see the cannabis industry transformed.

As a potential cannabis investor, keeping up to date with the latest research regarding the ECS is a crucial factor. In recent years, cannabis products have evolved significantly as our understanding of marijuana and its cannabinoids has grown. Future developments will continue to shape the products we use, their efficacy, and the prevalence of medical and recreational markets.