Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

To understand why medicinal cannabis is so effective, you must understand the endocannabinoid system. Tetra Health explains this system quickly and easily.

If you haven’t heard of Raphael Mechoulam, he’s known as the grandfather of cannabis because about 56 years ago he discovered a system in our bodies that would forever change the history of medicinal cannabis.

The ECS is a physiological system that is found inside all mammals – and it is as unique as our fingerprints. The ECS functions in the body of each one of us, even if we have never consumed cannabis before. The ECS is made up of endocannabinoids, enzymes, and receptors, and is one of the systems that maintains the body’s homeostasis – that’s just fancy talk for keeping everything balanced. For example, if an outside trigger, such as lack of sleep or pain, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS helps your body return to its ideal state.

The ECS is responsible for regulating appetite, the immune system, cognition, mood, sleep, pain perception, metabolism and muscle function. It also regulates pleasure, memory, cognition, sensory processing and brain development…that is a lot of processes!

Medicinal Cannabis - Tera

This diagram shows the chemical structure of cannabidiol (CBD), one of the major cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. In the brain, it works by controlling some of the signals (green dots) that are sent through some nerve fibres.

How does the Endocannabinoid System work?

Endocannabinoids are small molecules that our bodies produce. They are similar to cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, which are called phytocannabinoids (two of about 104 are THC and CBD).

Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout our bodies on the surface of cells.  Endocannabinoids bind to those receptors and transmit information about changing conditions to the inside of the cell.

That means the introduction of phytocannabinoids to the body increases the presence of cannabinoids which our body thinks are endocannabinoids. And it makes sense because studies suggest that certain conditions like migraines, fibromyalgia, and IBS might actually be caused by what researchers have dubbed Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency.

The two most studied cannabinoid receptors are:

  • CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system  (pain pathway)
  • CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, in immune cells and in a number of organs

When the right endo- or phytocannabinoids interact with these receptors, patients can experience a fundamental reduction in symptoms such as pain and inflammation and also explains why medicinal cannabis can be such a useful tool across a broad range of indications and symptoms.

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