But what is an ECS, and how exactly does CBD work with it? I answer these questions and more in this article.
What is your Endocannabinoid System?
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) was first discovered in the early 1990s when scientists were looking to determine the effects of cannabis, specifically THC on the body. Although experts are still working to determine the full extent of how the ECS works within our bodies, it is thought that it has some level of impact on our sleep, our mood, our appetite, our memory and our reproductive system - a significant amount of our body’s functions.
Although discovered because of cannabis, one does not need to have used a cannabis product of any kind to have this, everybody has an ECS. It is a natural part of the body’s system and helps us to subconsciously react to the environment around us.
The current consensus is that our ECS helps to promote homeostasis. The BBC described homeostasis as: “the regulation of conditions in the body such as temperature, water content and carbon dioxide levels.” Effectively, your ECS helps to keep your body in the Goldilocks zone, keeping everything working correctly and efficiently.
How does your Endocannabinoid system work?
There are three main parts to the ECS: Endocannabinoids, Endocannabinoid receptors and enzymes.
The Endocannabinoids are created by your body and are the signals which your body sends to keep itself in line. There are also over 100 types of cannabinoids in cannabis, and the two most prominent ones when it comes to their effects on the ECS are CBD and THC.
The receptors receive these signals or endocannabinoids.
Healthline explains the role of Endocannabinoid receptors: “These receptors are found throughout your body. Endocannabinoids bind to them in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action.”
Healthline goes on to explain how they work:
“There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:
- CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system
- CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells
“Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The effects that result depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.
“For example, endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others might bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body’s experiencing inflammation.”
The final component is the enzymes, these break down the Endocannabinoids when they are used and dispose of them.
The simplest way to this about the system is as a lock-and-key system. The Endocannabinoids are the keys, and the receptors the locks.
How does CBD work with your Endocannabinoid System?
As well as cannabinoids produced inside the body, the ECS also responds to external cannabinoids, including CBD. All cannabinoids can act upon the CB1 and CB2 receptors anywhere in the body; this is why CBD products have been reported to benefit people in many different ways.
When CBD enters your body, it joins your natural Endocannabinoid System and works with your ECS in a different way than your own cannabinoids. They do not bind with them in the same way but work with them more indirectly. So, although they aren’t sending direct signals, they affect the signals that are being sent.
When a CBD cannabinoid joins your Endocannabinoid receptors, they can do a range of things, from activating that receptor to modulating them and even going some way to blocking them, the results are different for each person and differ between receptor types and functions.
Research is still in its infancy when it comes to how CBD can be used to promote a healthy ECS, although as we know from many first-hand accounts people find all manner of benefits from using CBD, from sleep promotion to a reduction in pain.
Ruth Ross: Demystifying the Endocannabinoid System
This is only a short overview of a complicated system within our bodies, and one that scientists are still learning about. One of the scientists that have been studying the Endocannabinoid System is Ruth Ross, and in 2019 she did a TEDx Talk in which she offers an overview of how the ECS works and how THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, can affect it. You can watch that below.
There is no doubt that there is still a lot to learn about our body’s ECS, but knowing there are so many possible effects CBD can have on it shows why CBD products can help people in a range of ways.
I’m interested to see how the science progresses in regard to CBD and the ECS, especially when THC is taken out of the equation and CBD is examined as an isolate.
About the author:
Kamila is a bestselling author of “Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation”, and passionate trend-spotter for the UK Eating Out market with thousands of followers on her widely popular blog kamilasitwell.co.uk.
With a decade of hands-on experience collaborating with hospitality influencers and insight experts and a background in setting strategies for leading brands, Kamila has become the industry champion for truly bespoke and guest-centric experiences.