What Do We Know About the Endocannabinoid System?

Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi - Content Writer

Sep 22 2021 - 4 min read

What are some of the most important facts about your amazing endocannabinoid system (ECS)? The late twentieth century discovery of the endocannabinoid system was a turning point in modern medicine. Even scientists were astounded that there was another entire system in our bodies, capable of impacting other major systems like the central nervous system.

Pivotal research on the ECS has broadened our understanding since 1988 when a study at the St. Louis University School of Medicine revealed the connection between cannabis and our endocannabinoid systems. However, much remains to be discovered about the ECS. What we do know is that our brains possess neurotransmitters that respond to naturally occurring compounds found in cannabis.

The takeaway? Our innate ECS and its natural link to cannabis means that medical marijuana could be a viable treatment option for wide-ranging mental and physical conditions. In fact, cannabis medicine could enhance our health, with or without treating a specific ailment.

Here, we break down exactly what the endocannabinoid system is and how it interacts with various aspects of our health.

Download Free Guide to the ECS

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system keeps us in homeostasis or balance and regulates our most vital life processes like appetite and reproduction. When the endocannabinoid system is out of balance, we are also off-kilter and not functioning at an optimal level. Endocannabinoid deficiencies often precede disease, which is one reason why the system is dubbed “the master regulator.”

The ECS functions by communicating with the different cannabinoid receptors found in every cell of our bodies. Our cannabinoid receptors bind to prominent cannabinoids like CBD and THC. Dopamine receptors, for example, are linked to pleasurable sensations, and the ECS works in tandem with these receptors when the brain signals pleasure.

In addition, the ECS works alongside endocannabinoids, notably anandamide, which are key molecules that the body naturally produces. This synthesis of internal action impacts how our bodies and brains respond to cannabis medicine.

What is the endocannabinoid system (ECS)?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Interesting Facts about the Endocannabinoid System

The ECS is intimately involved with the most crucial life processes starting with reproduction. Here, we examine four of the most essential roles the endocannabinoid system plays in pain, inflammation, immunity and mood. We also unveil the science behind these processes and how cannabis medicine might help them run smoother.

Pain and the Endocannabinoid System

The ECS plays a primary role in chronic pain and the potential reduction of this common condition, which affects more than 50 million Americans. Scientists have found the ECS to be one of the key systems of the body to affect pain and pain processing pathways. In other words, a well-balanced ECS could be beneficial for pain, whereas an imbalanced ECS could be detrimental to pain.

Understanding how cannabis can alleviate pain could be a powerful weapon in the war against opioid addiction. Rather than prescribing hyper-addictive synthetic opioids to patients suffering from chronic pain, some doctors are doling out cannabis instead. Even if we remove fatal opioid overdoses from the equation, cannabis still emerges as a safer alternative when considering non-lethal breathing problems associated with opioids. In short, the endocannabinoid system helps the body “recognize” cannabis as genuine medicine, which the body cannot achieve with synthetic drugs.

Download Free Guide to Marijuana and Chronic Pain

Inflammation and the Endocannabinoid System

Inflammation is one of the biggest factors associated with disease. Diabetes, cancer, arthritis and autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s all strongly correlate with inflammation. The endocannabinoid system, when in proper balance, can exert therapeutic properties to fight disease-causing inflammation. Researchers have suggested that there is compelling evidence regarding endocannabinoid therapy as a treatment for arthritis.

Furthermore, endocannabinoid-based drugs like Nabilone are sometimes prescribed to treat painful conditions, but whole-plant cannabis may ultimately be more effective and accompanied by fewer side effects. Manmade drugs like Nabilone are derived from synthetic versions of the endocannabinoids in our bodies, whereas direct cannabis medicine is 100% natural and abundant with phytocannabinoids from the plant. Synthetic cannabis medications versus unadulterated cannabis is akin to the difference between strawberry-flavored candies and fresh strawberries. Indeed, medical marijuana in pure form is the original “plant-based medicine.”

Immunity and the Endocannabinoid System

Together, endocannabinoids and the immune system have the ability to inhibit inflammation. Decreasing cellular inflammation helps wage a battle against the most serious illnesses known to humankind, including many types of cancer. Further research is necessary on immunity and the ECS, but we do know that endocannabinoids can boost immunity in both healthy and immunocompromised individuals.

Mood and the Endocannabinoid System

Some people use cannabis to lift their mood and experience the euphoric high that THC may offer. It appears that the endocannabinoid system may also benefit mood disorders like anxiety and depression. CBD and THC in particular have become popular supplemental treatments for mood disorders not limited to anxiety and depression. These cannabinoids may also help sufferers of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Medical Marijuana and Your Endocannabinoid System

Clearly, the endocannabinoid system has significant impacts on your body, brain and overall health. From mood to immunity, the endocannabinoid system regulates your most critical life functions. The endocannabinoid system is one major reason why cannabis has the power to work as medicine in the human body.

Download Free Guide to the ECS

Leafwell’s qualified physicians are ready to answer your questions about the endocannabinoid system and everything else cannabis-related. Connect with a doctor today and get started by applying for a medical marijuana card.

Written by
Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi

Tina Magrabi is a writer and editor specializing in holistic health. She has written hundreds of articles for Weedmaps where she spearheaded the Ailments series on cannabis medicine. In addition, she has written extensively for the women's health blog, SafeBirthProject, as well as print publications including Destinations Magazine and Vero's Voice. Tina is a Yale University alumna and certified yoga instructor with a passion for the outdoors.

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