The Endocannabinoid System

The Key to Unlock the Door of Wellness

The endocannabinoid system (endogenous cannabinoid system) is among one of the greatest scientific discoveries of modern times and possibly also the most important. The ECS could hold the key to better understanding and treating numerous medical issues that plague multitudes of people around the world. It could unlock the door to cures for life threatening diseases like Alzheimer and cancer, as well as treatments for debilitating mental and physical pains. It is no wonder scientists are excited and eager to continue unlocking the various facets of this new system.


What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endogenous cannabinoid system is made up of millions of tiny receptors located in virtually every part of the body. It is not like the skeletal system or digestive system, which is easy to see and locate. Hidden deep in our cells, these ECS receptors work with compounds, called cannabinoids, to promote homeostasis. These cannabinoids are found both inside the body and in plants.

The ECS is complex and vital to our wellbeing.  You can think of the cannabinoids like a key to a car and the receptors like the ignition. Put together they start up and monitor homeostasis in many of the body’s physiological systems.

And, it is important to note, that not just humans have an endocannabinoid system. The ECS can be found in almost all life forms accept insects, making it easier for scientist to study and research how it operates.


Homeostasis the Goal of the ECS

As we said, homeostasis is always the goal of the endocannabinoid system. Encyclopedia Britannica defines homeostasis “as any self-regulating process by which biological systems tend to maintain stability while adjusting to conditions that are optimal for survival. If homeostasis is successful, life continues; if unsuccessful, disaster or death ensues”.  So, in short, homeostasis is the body’s way of keeping everything comfortable, balanced, in check and alive.

One example of homeostasis is the regulation of body temperature. When you walk outside on a hot day homeostasis kicks in and signals the body to sweat, in order to cool itself.  If the weather is cold, our body shivers to warm up.

Homeostasis also controls our appetite and lets us know when to eat and how much. It effects our moods and how we handle stress, and even effects reproductive health. Homeostasis is truly a life force in the body.

The endocannabinoid system promotes and regulates hemostasis in several vital areas all throughout the body. These include the brain, nervous system, reproductive system, and immune system. It effects things like pain management, inflammation, stress, anxiety, immunity, and memories.

Since the ECS is only just now being studied diligently, there is so much more to learn on how it works and effects the body. As we learn more, more questions arise and lead to new avenues of discovery.


When and How was the Endocannabinoid System Discovered?

So then, when was the endocannabinoid system discovered and how? In 1964 an Israeli doctor named Raphael Mechoulam wanted to learn more about the cannabis plant and its effects on the body. Despite its use for medicinal and recreational purposes for centuries, no one had really looked to define what made the plant so effective.

Dr. Mechoulam said an interview ,” On reading the old literature on cannabis I was surprised to note that from a modern point of view the field was ripe for a reinvestigation. In the early 1960s it was almost totally neglected.”

The doctor began to work on isolating the compounds in the cannabis plant in order to better understand what they were and how the body responded to them. In his research he discovered complex chemical compounds which he called cannabinoids. The first cannabinoid he was able to extract was THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and later CBD (cannabidiol). Since then many more cannabinoids have been discovered and more are still waiting to be found. THC and CBD are among the most well-known and most important. Dr. Mechoulam called the cannabinoids produced by plants phytocannabinoids.

Dr. Raphael discovered the first phytocannabinoids but the question remained how they were able to produce effects on the body. In 1992 a molecular biologist named Lisa Matsuda, who worked under Dr.Raphael Mechoulam  at the National Institute of Mental Health, started looking into this mystery. She discovered the first cannabinoid receptors in the brain and called them CB1. They were a perfect match to Dr. Mechoulam’s THC compound found in the cannabis plant.

Amazingly, Lisa Matsuda was able to pinpoint the CB receptor’s DNA strands and clone a rat without it. It was found that when THC from plants was administered to the rat, it had absolutely no effect on its brain.

This was the proof needed to support the theory that cannabinoids were indeed the activators of the CB receptors they had found. They had only scratched the service of the endogenous cannabinoid system, but it was becoming clear that they had stumbled upon something important.


Discovery of Endocannabinoids

Not long after the first set of receptors were found, a second set was discovered in the immune system and aptly named, CB2 receptors. This led scientist Dr. William Devane, who was also working with Dr. Mecholam at the National Institute of Mental Health, to discover a cannabinoid made internally by the body. It was called anandamide. This internal, or self-made, cannabinoid is referred to as an endocannabinoid.

Anandamide, known as the “blissful” cannabinoid is so named for its happy effect on the brain. Anandamide attaches to the CB receptors and causes the brain to experience a positive joyful effect. Anandamide is quickly broken down in the body by the enzyme FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) so the positive effect is short lived. In reality, anandamide is the body’s own self-made antidepressant.

Some people produce more anandamide than others. These people tend to be overall happier and more carefree. In contrast, if someone is deficient in anandamide, it can result in depression and anxiety.  Its complex effects on the brain and nervous system are still part of ongoing studies.


How are THC and Anandamide Different?

It is important to note the difference between THC and anandamide. THC from plants is a similar makeup to anandamide and so it can connect with the CB1 receptors. But it differs from anandamide because it has a strong psychotic effect on the brain. This makes it a more difficult cannabinoid to use for medical purposes, although it does have some powerful medicinal effects on the body. But, side effects of THC make it difficult to use for most patients. In fact, it can produce a negative overall effect on the body in some people whose ECS produces high amounts of anandamide.

One point is obvious from these studies, anandamide is important, and we want to promote and maintain its production in the endocannabinoid system. This is done through exercise, diet, and through quality supplements. Maintaining a good balance can help naturally relieve feelings of depression and anxiety.



2-AG or 2 Arachidonoyl Glycerol, works for a different end than anandamide. It is an agonist which binds to the CB1 but mainly CB2 receptors which are in the immune system. The CB2 receptors signal to the immune system to trigger an immune response to fight off illness, disease ,etc. 2-AG is essential to a healthy immune system and vital to bodily health.


There have been other cannabinoids discovered, some we understand, and others need more research. The endocannabinoid system is so complex and so hidden, it still holds a ton of mysteries. Dr.Mecholam’s friend Di Marzo described the work of endocannabinoids quite simply as, “Relax, eat, sleep, forget, and protect”. This is a great way of summing up their purpose!


What Happens When the ECS is Not Working Properly?

Now that we understand a little about how the endocannabinoid system works, we can understand how a breakdown in the system could cause many problems for overall health. Breakdowns in the ECS can occur as a result of poor diet or exercise, over use of medication, or overuse of other drugs, physical injuries or even constant stress.

Our lifestyles today are unfortunately wreaking havoc on our bodies externally and internally and damaging this important system. We don’t find time to exercise, which increases anandamide in our body. Our diets not only lack proper balance but also create an imbalance in our body’s physiological systems including the ECS. Stress is at an all time high and overuse of medication and antibiotics is on the rise. It is no surprise our body can’t keep up!


CBD and Endocannabinoid System

Researchers are still trying to identify exactly what hurts the ECS and how to make it work to its optimal strength. It has been proven that CBD from the cannabis plant is powerful at repairing and boosting our ECS. So, how does CBD help the endocannabinoid system?

First, let’s clarify the difference between THC and CBD. CBD does not produce a psychotic high like THC. It instead works with the body to help boost its production of cannabinoids. When you take CBD, such as these from Vitaleaf, the phytocannabinoid binds with the receptors and tells the endogenous cannabinoid system to make more endocannabinoids.

In short, CBD boosts your body’s natural production of both anandamide and 2-AG as well as other endocannabinoids found in the ECS. Thus, promoting a more active ECS and better health.


What Can CBD Do for Us?

So that leads to a big question. What good can CBD do for the body? This is a loaded question that requires more testing and research to answer. In many ways, because the endocannabinoid system is present in the entire body and effects almost every part of our person, the use of CBD also can be effective in healing and maintaining hemostasis in our body’s systems. This leads to overall wellness and health in the entire body. How awesome is that! It almost seems to good to be true, but the research is ongoing and so far, the evidence has been convincing.


CBD and Physical and Mental Health

The use of CBD for epilepsy has been one of the more well studied uses of the cannabis plant today. Many studies have been conducted on CBD showing the reduction of seizures while taking the phytocannabinoid.

This past June the FDA approved the use of CBD for severe cases of epilepsy. This is the first FDA approval of CBD based medicines thus far. This is an important step towards the use of cannabis products in medicine legally in the US.

Maybe of more widespread importance is the CBD’s effect on mental disorders such as bipolar and depression. The use of CBD promotes in uptick in the EC system’s production of anandamide which serves to help regulate stress and treat depression in a more natural way.

CBD may even help doctors to understand how over the counter antidepressants work. It is possible they are producing an effect on the ECS like cannabidiol. Considering the widespread use of antidepressants today, the study of CBD on depression and anxiety will certainly be useful to the general population as scientists learn more.

Another popular use for cannabidiol is for pain and inflammation. There have been several studies done on both humans and rats to assess the effects of CBD on the endocannabinoid system and pain management as well as inflammation.

It studies such as this one conducted on rats, the use of CBD showed a reduction in inflammation in the test subjects body. People today are using cannabidiols from hemp for pain management and reporting favorable results.

Cannabis has been shown to increase appetite in studies with rats. In a world where obesity is becoming more and more a problem, this could be great news! If CBD and THC is affecting an increase appetite in users, then it could be key to helping scientists and doctors understand the effects of the endocannabinoid system on weight loss as well. Researchers have been struggling to find an effective remedy to the’ “obesity epidemic”. Looking at the ECS and its control of digestive help, as well as the use of CBD could unlock some answers.

Perhaps most exciting is the effects of cannabinoids on life threatening diseases such as cancer which doctors have been trying to cure for years. The use of CBD and of THC, although less desirable because of its side effects, from the cannabis plant has proven in tests to posses a great defense against cancer.

In an article posted in The Daily Beast the topic of  marijuana’s effect on cancer cells and tumor growth highlights the amazing studies that have been performed in this area. The article states “that cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive component of the marijuana plant, is a potent inhibitor of breast cancer cell proliferation, metastasis, and tumor growth.” These findings are encouraging and exciting as scientists continue to look for a cure to cancer and other debilitating and life-threatening illnesses.


CBD is Not Just for People

Also, since the endocannabinoid system is found in animals as well as humans, cannabidiol has proved effective in treating illness in pets. Just like in humans, cannabinoids can treat depression, anxiety, digestive issues, pain, inflammation, and diseases like cancer found in pets and other animals.

There are many testimonies to be found on the effects of cannabidiol and other cannabinoids on dogs, cats and horses as well as other animals. As new studies arise, more information surfaces and help researchers design more appropriate forms of cannabinoids to support a healthy ECS in our pets.

For now, if your pet is suffering from arthritis, cancer, digestive issues or just  experiences nervousness on a road trip, CBD supplements made especially for animals might be a great option to help support their endocannabinoid system.


The Studies Continue

The studies and research behind the endocannabinoid system are a new but exploding field in modern science. With so many recent discoveries showing promises of new treatments and even cures for the illnesses and diseases that millions of people suffer from daily, scientists are eager to keep unearthing its many hidden mysteries.

The challenge is to navigate the political and social road blocks the industry faces, as well as the need for more in-depth study on the ECS. More understanding and discovery will aide scientist in narrowing in on many unanswered questions. One thing is certain, the endogenous cannabinoid system and its relation to the phytocannabinoids is worth the effort. Hopefully the reward will be a key to unlocking new wellness in the world’s population by supporting and protecting a healthy endocannabinoid system.

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