One reason phytocannabinoids (plant cannabinoids), like the CBD molecule, work in such remarkable synergy with the human body is due to their similarity to our own, internally produced endocannabinoids. The two we know most about are called Anandamide and 2-AG, and they’re released as needed to activate our endocannabinoid system (ECS).
What is the Endocannabinoid System
In this article, we’re going to explore what endocannabinoids are, how they work and what they have to do with CBD oil. But before that, a quick explainer about the ECS…
The ECS is possibly the most important physiological system in the human body. It’s a ‘homeostatic regulator’, meaning it’s job is to keep everything working just as it should. Yet incredibly, it was only discovered when scientists were investigating how the cannabis plant interacted with the human body – hence the ‘cannabinoid’ in the name.
The ECS is made of receptors (the two we know most about are CB1 and CB2), dotted around just about everywhere in the body – from almost every skin cell, throughout all other physiological systems (such as the immune system, nervous system and endocrine system), in our muscles tissue, bones, all organs all the way down to our mitochondrial walls. These receptors sit at the surface of cells and read conditions outside of the cell. They pass messages about those outside conditions into the cell to trigger the appropriate response (or tell the cell to remain as it is).
The Endocannabinoid System - A Full Body Regulator
In its role as all-round regulator, the ECS acts much like the composer of the symphony that is the workings of the human body. Working with anandamide and 2-AG (which we will come to in a moment), the ECS helps activate areas of the body which need activating and decrease any over-activity too. It is essentially a dimmer switch which works constantly, and for all bodily processes, to try and keep everything in balance. This state of homeostasis our body is always striving to achieve is what’s affectionately known as ‘the Goldilocks Zone’.
There are now over 41,000 studies involving the ECS, yet for reasons unknown, it’s mechanisms are still not taught in most medical schools.
Endocannabinoids are vital for a fully functioning body
Like certain phytocannabinoids from the cannabis plant (that you’ll find in CBD oil), anandaminde and 2-AG both activate ECS receptors to initiate a response. Unlike phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids are made within the body and synthesised on demand (made and used as needed).
Anandamide is a fatty acid neurotransmitter, initially identified in 1992 by scientist Dr Raphael Mechoulam, and is released as needed to fit like a lock and key into both CB1 and CB2 receptors – like cannabinoids THC and CBG.
Here are some amazing facts about Anandamide…
It’s is named after the Sanskrit word for ‘bliss’ and often referred to as ‘the bliss molecule’ - which gives you some idea of the affect it has on the body!
We naturally release anandamide during intense exercise, and it’s partly responsible for the ‘runners high’ sensation.
Anandamide doesn’t stay around for long, as an enzyme known as FAAH is also present in our ECS receptors and this breaks it down very quickly. Remember, the goal for the ECS is homeostasis – so anandamide only needs to be there long enough to bring everything back into balance.
2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) is the second endocannabinoid we know most about. It was also discovered in the 90s and activates CB receptors, just like Anandamide.
Here are some amazing facts about 2-AG…
Although 2-AG is less talked about that Anandamide, its actually more abundant in the human body. It’s also found in very high levels in human breast milk.
Endocannabinoid 2-AG is released during orgasm – which gives you some idea of how good it makes you feel, and how good sex is for you too!
World renowned cannabis expert, Dr Ethan Russo, coined the term Endocannabinoid Deficiency to describe a condition where anandamide and 2-AG are not synthesised and released as and when they need to be. He has theorised that this can occur as a result of emotional and physical stressors, poor diet, lack of exercise and a number of other negative lifestyle choices.
Could an ‘Endocannabinoid Deficiency’ be at the heart of many complaints?
When the body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids, our ECS is left without the part it needs to activate and initiate responses. As a result, the ECS is unable to function correctly and the body falls out of balance.
When our homeostatic regulator is ‘offline’ in this way, there is no dimmer switch action to regulate all other system and bodily processes. And, as you might imagine, this is thought by many medical cannabis expert to have the potential to result in just about any ailment out there!
Where does CBD oil come in?
How can CBD support your ECS?
Cannabidiol (CBD), and over 120 other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, appear to have a unique interaction with the ECS.
It’s actually THC (as well as more recently discovered ‘mother cannabinoid’ CBG and terpene, B-Caryophyllene) which fits like a lock and key into CB receptors, like anandamide, whereas CBD modulates these receptors for improved uptake of ananamide and 2-AG, while potentially inhibiting the enzyme which degrades them.
In doing so, CBD supports the synthesis and release of anandamide and 2-AG, to help maintain a fully functioning ECS.