The Endocannabinoid System

What is the Endocannabinoid System responsible for?

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) was discovered thanks to its similarities with the cannabis plant, hurrah! Over the past 30 years, scientists have been learning about this revolutionary finding in modern medicine. Here, we explain what the ECS is, and exactly why cannabis has a fundamental role to play in maintaining it.

The ECS is a crucial system found in all animals except for insects

The ECS is a crucial system found in all animals except for insects. It looks like a cell-signalling system that has a highly communicative network across the entire body hence why it interacts across all of our physical, mental and emotional spheres. You can imagine it as the switchboard to our body’s homeostasis, reacting to internal and external stimuli and bringing the body back into balance. Due to its expansive network, it has a crucial role in essentially all diseases. There is not a single function that is not influenced or modulated by the ECS. As a starter, it regulates brain neurogenesis, memory, mood, immune system, inflammation, pain, digestion, metabolism and the stress response. Without realising it, we rely on this system to function normally and as we continue to uncover it’s potential it may be marvelled as one of the most important systems for maintaining health, wellness and avoiding major disease. How can we not get excited about it…right?

What does the Endocannabinoid System consist of?

The ECS is made up of receptors, cannabinoids and enzymes. The receptors act as the docking stations which receive information in the form of cannabinoids. So far there are 2 main receptors, the CB1 receptor is the most abundant, found in high concentrations across the brain, in every neuron type and across the Central Nervous System (CNS). These receptors modulate the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and glutamate, linking to the euphoric effects experienced when these receptors are activated. Secondly, we have the CB2 receptors which are located in the peripheral nervous system and have a greater role in modulating the immune system such that it has a strong affinity with inflammation and therefore pain management. 

The cannabinoids are the messengers necessary to bring our cells into homeostasis

The cannabinoids are the messengers necessary to bring our cells into homeostasis. These come in 2 forms; Endocannabinoids which we naturally produce in our bodies, the best studied being anandamide and 2-AG. Secondly and most excitingly, Phytocannabinoids are produced by plants and are found most abundantly in cannabis. For example, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is akin to anandamide which is known for creating the ‘blissful’ feeling. This mimicry of chemicals between our body and the cannabis plant is an important reminder of the oneness and synergy between ourselves and the natural world and the role nature has to play in our own healing. In this case, specifically the potential cannabis has in supporting our vital Endocannabinoid System.

Finally, enzymes are also key players in the ECS as they synthesise cannabinoids on demand as well as others that break them down once used. Together, this entire system acts to maintain the ideal operating environment that we need to survive and for all the body’s processes to function well. When there is a signal of stress, the endocannabinoid system acts to bring the cells back into balance. But what if this system isn’t functioning effectively?

What is the problem with the Endocannabinoid System?

And this is where it gets even more interesting… Our own bodies produce endocannabinoids as a response to stress, these include pain, anxiety, hunger and inflammation. However, for many of us, modern life has set us into a state of hyper-stimulation, chronic stress and poor lifestyle habits. Our poor ECS is running on overdrive, constantly fighting fires and doing what it can to bring our bodies back into balance to ensure everything can run smoothly. With the demand on the system being overloaded, our bodies can’t manage to produce enough endocannabinoids and the signalling system weakens. Balance can not be restored. This is when things can start to fray, splinter and break down. Symptoms of ‘dis-ease’ begin to surface and have a knock-on effect on other systems and different areas of our health and vitality. 

Hempen open hemp field

Crucially, just like any other bodily system, we don’t tend to give attention to our ECS until something is up. Similarly to breathing, we only notice our breath when we find ourselves underwater. According to recent research, there are many diseases and symptoms that may be related to or at least involve a dysfunctional endocannabinoid system. These include chronic pain, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimers, epilepsy, chronic headaches, irritable bowel, inflammation, autoimmune diseases and many more.

Why is Cannabis/Hemp a key player?

Therefore, it goes without saying, nourishing our ECS is a primary step to preventing and alleviating a wide range of issues. Serendipitously, cannabis contains 100+ phytocannabinoids that interact and can re-harmonise this system, supporting your own body’s natural functioning. Doesn’t this just reinforce the power and potential of natural herbal medicine? It doesn’t stop there either, on top of cannabinoids, cannabis also has an abundance and variety of terpenes (produce aroma), flavonoids (create the colours) and other compounds which work on the endocannabinoid system and across the body in a myriad of ways. This is known in herbal medicine as the “entourage effect”, because it’s power comes from it’s diversity rather than its singularity. 

Currently, the easiest way to enrich your ECS system is through hemp/ cannabis extracts

Due to UK legislation, these are available in the form of CBD oils extracted from hemp flowers (a strain of cannabis with trace levels of THC). For the highest quality and to benefit from the entourage effect, you will want an organic full spectrum (still includes traces of THC) or broad spectrum (THC removed) CBD oil which will ensure you’re getting the greatest diversity of cannabinoids such as CBDA, CBC, CBG as well as terpenes and flavonoids. To put it simply, the closer the extract is to the natural plant, the better! Nature knows best. Luckily for you, Hempen strives to offer the highest quality organic CBD oils as well as a range to ensure there’s something for everyone’s needs…

Cold Pressed CBD Oil

Cold Pressed CBD Oil – Full Spectrum

Hempen Organic CBD Oil

Organic CBD Oil – Broad Spectrum

The holistic approach to nourishing your Endocannabinoid System

In line with our holistic values at Hempen, it is important to mention the additional ways you can also support your ECS. As we made you aware earlier, modern lifestyle takes its toll on this system. A significant contributing factor that can overload your ECS is stress. Exercise, movement, yoga, breathwork & meditation activates your ECS and this system has some part to play in why these activities reduce stress both in the body & mind. It has also been observed in research that singing & dancing elevates your own natural endocannabinoid levels in your body. Who needed another reason to sing louder in the shower and dance more in the kitchen?

What you feed your body dictates how your body regenerates and how your body can mediate stress. For your body to synthesise endocannabinoids, it needs the building blocks available. It has been shown that Omegas 3 & 6 are the precursors to our endocannabinoids, therefore a diet rich in these omega sources supports your ECS. It just so happens (okay, who planned this?) that hemp seeds contain the optimum ratio of omegas 3 & 6 for humans, so eating the raw seeds or the deliciously nutty hemp seed oil can do your ECS wonders! Fish, nuts, berries and green leafy vegetables are also prime sources of omega 3 as it seems we already get enough omega 6 (in comparison to omega 3) through cereal grains which are much more commonly eaten in our modern diets. Overall, eat less processed & packaged foods and fill your plates with colourful wholefoods.

Yes, exercise, diet and lifestyle can sometimes be challenging changes to make, however combining these with a CBD oil will give your ECS and overall health a super-boost!

The Endocannabinoid SystemHempen field

Gratitude to the cannabis plant!

As we uncover more and more about how vital the ECS is when it comes to our everyday health, as well as being an instrumental component in alleviating symptoms of severe disease. It seems fitting to call cannabis a ‘plant teacher’. Without the study of THC in our brain and body, it may have been a long time until we discovered and recognised the relevance and importance of the ECS. What’s more, we can think of the messenger phyto-cannabinoids as “talking” to our cells, like a soothing and supportive friend in times of need. Cannabis will continue to teach us about ourselves as the ECS and cannabinoids remain a focus of modern research due to their ubiquitous nature of healing and rebalancing of the human body & mind. Hopefully this will in turn reinforce the connection we have with plants and the solutions in the natural world and amplify the importance of taking care of this earth…maybe by growing more hemp!?

 

Written by Zena Winterbottom @thehempherbalist Join my cannabis herbalism journey, to inspire conscious & holistic relationship with Cannabis.