Hemp 101 Education Series – The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) & Receptors

June 3, 2020

Hemp 101 Education Series – The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) & Receptors

In this installment of our Hemp 101 Education Series, we discuss the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and how receptors function.

You’ve heard about the potential benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) and other hemp-derived substances. But do scientists know how CBD and other cannabinoids interact with a human’s body to deliver these effects?

We’ll answer questions like, how does the ECS work? And how does it explain why people experience benefits of CBD?

What Is the Endocannabinoid System ?

The endocannabinoid system is a network of cells, receptors, enzymes, and neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids. Its primary role in the body is to maintain mental and bodily harmony, known as homeostasis. 

Unlike other well-known parts of the body, scientists did not discover the ECS until the 1990s. So much of the research around how it works is ongoing. Here’s what we know so far.

Components of the ECS & Receptors

Cannabinoid Receptors – These membranes allow for the passage of messages from neuron to neuron and cell to cell. They come in two kinds.

CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain. CB2 receptors are located mostly in the immune system.

Endocannabinoids – These neurotransmitters attach to cannabinoid receptors to help regulate the signals moving to and from them. 

ECS Enzymes – These specialized enzymes work to break down endocannabinoids as they are no longer needed, through the process of reuptake.

These components work together most notably to regulate:

  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Hunger and Satiety
  • Memory
  • Immune response which includes inflammation
  • Pain

This system is not only found in humans. All vertebrates have an ECS.

Below is a reference of where some of the receptors are located.

Endocannabinoid System ECS CB1 CB2 Receptors location

How the ECS & Receptors Work Together

To understand how the ECS maintains balance, let’s look at pain. Some pain is good. It tells you when something isn’t right in the body.

But, overwhelming or nagging pain does more harm than good. When the body experiences a pain-inducing event, cells in the area send messages through the nervous system. You perceive this as pain.

In a body experiencing disharmony, these cells overreact, sending messages too quickly. So your body releases endocannabinoids, which attach to CB1 receptors. This slows down the signals. As a result, you feel less pain. 

Something similar happens with Inflammation. Inflammation is one of the ways the immune system fights infection. But too much inflammation can damage cells and cause pain. So the ECS produces endocannabinoids to attach to CB2 receptors and regulate the level of inflammation.

Ideally, enzymes only reuptake endocannabinoids once they’ve restored balance. Sometimes the ECS releases too few endocannabinoids. Or the enzymes destroy them too quickly, resulting in disharmony in the body and mind.

How Cannabidiol (CBD) Interacts with the ECS

CBD is just one of many plant-based cannabinoids found in hemp. It is biologically similar to the endocannabinoids that you produce.  According to the World Health Organization, CBD may slow down the reuptake of the endocannabinoids, allowing them to remain in the body longer to maintain homeostasis.

This may explain why studies show that CBD may offer several harmonizing benefits for body and mind. To learn more about hemp, CBD, and how cannabinoids may support homeostasis, check out the next Hemp 101 Guide.

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