Notes From the Field: Your Endocannabinoid System, Explained

Last Update: September 27, 2022

Welcome to Notes From the Field, a series of guest posts by brands sold on Thrive Market. While we share many of the same high standards regarding health, quality, and sustainability as our partner brands, all opinions shared in this post reflect the views of the brand, not Thrive Market. In this article, we’re excited to introduce you to Prima, a wellness and skin care company that specializes in premium hemp-based cannabinoid creams, supplements, and elixirs.

It’s one of the most important systems in the body. And yet, it’s one that has only recently begun to be studied and understood. Here’s a look at the basics of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and why further research is so important.

What exactly is the Endocannabinoid System?

Found throughout the brain, nervous systems and organs of humans and all mammals—birds, fish and reptiles, too—the ECS is the body’s internal system of cannabis molecules and receptors. It’s a pretty primitive system. Scientists predict that humans evolved to possess the ECS over 500 million years ago.

Why is the ECS important to our well being?

The ECS is the largest biological system of receptors in the body, and some scientists believe it is the most important physiological system involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Its job is to maintain homeostasis, or balance, and to keep our cells and immune system healthy.

What is the ECS made up of?

There are three main components:

  • Endocannabinoids: activate cannabinoid receptors
  • Cannabinoid Receptors: mediate the effects of cannabinoids
  • Enzymes: help the body break down and recycle endocannabinoids

What are the two main receptors within the ECS?

  • CB1: regulates appetite and memory and reduces pain, found in the brain and spinal cord
  • CB2: works to reduce inflammation, found in the immune system and other areas of the body

What are Endocannabinoids?

Endocannabinoids are cannabinoid-like molecules naturally produced by cells in our body. Endocannabinoids and receptors make up the ECS and exist throughout the body in the brain, immune cells, organs, glands and connective tissues. When something brings a cell out of balance, the ECS is often called upon to restore the previous physiological situation, thus maintaining homeostasis. As a result, our bodies are constantly producing endocannabinoids to address imbalances.

What are the two main endocannabinoids naturally produced inside the body?

  • 2-AG: the most prevalent endocannabinoid, responsible for managing appetite, pain response and immune system function
  • Anandamide: named after “Ananda,” the Sanskrit word for “bliss” and “happiness, considered “the bliss molecule” and is responsible for the blissful state cannabis induces

Why is homeostasis good?

The ECS has one goal in mind: homeostasis. Throughout changes in our external environment, such as temperature, stress, inflammation or harmful chemical exposures, our ECS works to maintain a stable internal environment. By working to achieve homeostasis, the ECS regulates the many functions necessary for survival and ensures that the body is stable and works in harmony.

How are the ECS and the cannabis plant related?

For the longest time, we didn’t understand why cannabis affected humans. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam discovered the Endocannabinoid System in his laboratory at the Hebrew University in Israel. Together with his team, Dr. Mechoulam uncovered naturally occurring neurotransmitters (called endocannabinoids) that are almost identical in structure to the compounds produced by the cannabis plant (called phytocannabinoids.) From here, we uncovered the active compounds in hemp and marijuana and we are just beginning to understand how they impact human health.

What are Phytocannabinoids?

Phytocannabinoids are naturally occurring cannabinoids found in hemp plants. Ingesting phytocannabinoids is a common way to support the ECS. Hemp is one of the few plants in the world that produce cannabinoids. There are 120 known phytocannabinoids in cannabis and the majority are understudied and not properly understood because regulatory complexities have made it difficult for U.S. scientists to conduct meaningful research and clinical trials. However, academic institutions like UCLA, UC Davis, UC San Diego, UCSF and others are taking initiative to pioneer medical cannabis research to further our understanding of phytocannabinoids.

* Statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your physician before use.

Photo credit: Prima

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