The Endocannabinoid System
Expression of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) throughout the human body
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) can be found in almost every part of our body, but especially the nervous system and immune system.
A healthy endocannabinoid system enables homeostasis. This simply means the ECS balances our cells and organs – it’s the Yin and Yang of the body.
In order to maintain this balance, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) regulates physical and emotional processes like appetite and mood.
It does this with substances called endocannabinoids, which are neurotransmitters. Simply put, neurotransmitters are “chemical commands” that one cell releases to tell another cell what to do, creating a specific biological response.
The net effect of these commands is called endocannabinoid tone. Tonic systems in the body have resting activity, so cannabinoid receptors are constantly activated by a low level of anandamide production.
Because the system has a resting activity of greater than 0, that means that its activity can be turned down!
This is how the ECS is able to control regulation; if it wasn’t able to decrease its activity from the baseline, then it wouldn’t be able to promote balance when a process needs to be reduced slightly.
Do I have an endocannabinoid system?
All mammals have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). Its discovery has been a 40 year journey, and more is uncovered every day.
Researchers discovered the endocannabinoid system while attempting to pinpoint exactly how THC produces its effects; THC is the compound found in cannabis which causes the psychoactive effects (the high) associated with marijuana.
What they have learned over the years is that the endocannabinoid system, ECS for short, is a signaling system that allows our cells and organs to communicate with each other in order to balance overall activity and energy consumption.
This results in what we call homeostasis: a healthy state of balance within our body.
What is homeostasis?
Homeostasis is internal balance or stability amid changing external conditions.
The term homeostasis is very broad.
It refers to general organism-level factors, like body temperature, which are affected by the external environment.
Homeostasis also refers to specific cellular factors like oxidative stress, which are affected by the activity levels of other cells in the immediate microscopic vicinity.
The endocannabinoid system – a complex, scaled communication network – maintains homeostasis and balance across the different systems of our body.
In addition to CB1, CB2, and GPR-55, other kinds of receptors respond to and interact with endocannabinoids and plant cannabinoids.
The discovery of additional receptors that operate within the endocannabinoid system continuously expands our understanding of how the ECS works.
Peroxisome Proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) control the expression of genes depending on cell-type. They are implicated in cancer growth and activation of immune cells.
Endocannabinoids interact with PPARs to modulate the expression of certain genes based on the requirements of the cell’s environment.
Transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 receptors (TRPV1) are found on sensory nerves throughout the peripheral nervous system.
TRPV 1 receptors recognize both high temperatures as well as chemicals that “burn”, like the primary compound responsible for the taste of chili peppers: capsaicin.
They are an instrumental part of human pain perception, and endocannabinoid regulation of TRPV1 is a negative feedback mechanism which maintains the sensitivity of this receptor by competing with painful stimuli for spots at TRPV1 receptors, a process called competitive antagonization.