What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system may be defined as a huge network of receptors and enzymes that regulate body homeostasis and other biological functions. Simply put, the endocannabinoid system handles the interaction between cells, including the sending and reception of signals. While it’s less popular in comparison to other systems and cells in the human body, the endocannabinoid system plays an integral role in the optimal function of our bodies.

In this article, we take a look at the components, functions and interrelationship between the endocannabinoid system and anandamide.

What Are the Components of The Endocannabinoid System?

If biology classes are anything to go by, and they sure are, cells, tissues, organs, and systems are integral to our bodily functions. The functions of each of these classes of the biological organization depend on the constituents of each system. The endocannabinoid system is no different and functions in line with its components. The endocannabinoid system has 3 components which we’ll explain below.

  1. Endocannabinoids: Endocannabinoids may be defined as neurotransmitters or chemical compounds that help to relay messages from one nerve cell to another. Think of them as a messaging platform, but for your cells. Endocannabinoids are generally of two types, namely; Anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. These compounds are secreted naturally in the human body and operate similarly to cannabinoids in marijuana. Endocannabinoids are present in several locations in the body due to their vital functions in several body systems.
  2. Endocannabinoid Receptors: Just as the name suggests, the endocannabinoid receptors are protein binders that send and receive signals to activate the endocannabinoid system. For instance, if you have inflammation, the endocannabinoid receptor targets your immune system. Endocannabinoid receptors are of two categories; the CB1 receptor and the CB2 receptor. The CB1 receptors are connected to the central nervous system, while the CB2 receptors work with the peripheral nervous system.
  3. Enzymes: Even if you’ve never heard of the endocannabinoid system, you’ve certainly heard of enzymes. Enzymes may be defined as lipids that work to break down the endocannabinoids upon completion of their jobs. As you’ve probably guessed, the enzyme components of the endocannabinoid system are of two major categories; Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), and Monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL). The FAAH breaks down anandamide, while MAGL acts upon 2-Arachidonoylglycerol.

What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do and How Does It Work?

In terms of what the endocannabinoid system actually does, studies are yet to find a definite conclusion. Other than its homeostasis functions, not much else is known about the workings of the endocannabinoid system. Research has shown that the endocannabinoid system functions as a neuromodulator. This simply means that the endocannabinoid system uses chemical compounds to regulate neurons in the human body. The endocannabinoid system has been shown to contribute to some of the following human body;

  • The formation of memories
  • Sleep and motor control
  • Metabolism and feeding habit
  • Muscle formation
  • Reproduction
  • Immune system responses
  • Stress relief and mood activation, etc.

Given its versatility and contribution to the optimal balance of the human body, scientists have itemised homeostasis as the main function of the endocannabinoid system. Homeostasis refers to the equilibrium or balance of the internal compounds of a living organism. Thus, the endocannabinoid system is instrumental in maintaining a balance of bodily fluids, chemical and other internal elements of our bodies.

So how does it work, you may ask. As we mentioned earlier, the endocannabinoid system has two receptors that interact with the cannabinoids in your body. The interaction of cannabinoids with these receptors lets your body know what hormone or effect to activate. For instance, the release of anandamide could be beneficial to dousing anxiety, stress relief and anti-inflammation. The role of the endocannabinoid system in the human body remains subject to ongoing researches.

The Relationship Between the Endocannabinoid System and Anandamide.

Anandamide is an essential component of the endocannabinoid system. Not only is it secreted by the ECS, but anandamide is also broken down by the endocannabinoid system. Thus, the endocannabinoid system doubles as the birthplace and final resting place of anandamide. Moreso, this compound is only secreted in little quantities and broken down immediately after use. It’s also only released when the endocannabinoid receptors send a signal for activation.

Some of the functions of anandamide in the body include mood and anxiety regulation, growth of new cells, prevention of cancerous cells, memory and learning capabilities, and regulating body temperature. The relationship between this compound and the ECS lies in its secretion and breaking down. So the endocannabinoid system houses, releases and breaks down anandamide once the latter has served its function.

What Is Endocannabinoid System Deficiency?

Endocannabinoid System deficiency refers to a condition whereby the human body produces a low quantity of endocannabinoids than is necessary. It may also be caused by a dysfunction in the endocannabinoid system. Studies have shown that having an endocannabinoid system deficiency could cause an imbalance in your body’s optimal function. This could lead to having incessant migraines, fibromyalgia and uncontrollable bowel movement.

Research has also shown these diseases are sometimes experienced simultaneously and may be treatment-resistant. It’s also been suggested that if these conditions are caused by a deficiency in endocannabinoids or dysfunction of the ECS, the best form of treatment would be to increase the production of endocannabinoids in the body. This brings us to the next section.

Improving Your Body’s Endocannabinoid Production

Having established that our bodies generally produce low qualities of anandamide and other endocannabinoids, it’s essential to note that some individuals produce fewer endocannabinoids than others and vice versa. As a result, an individual with low endocannabinoid production rates may experience loss of homeostasis and develop an ECS deficiency. The following are ways in which you can improve your body’s endocannabinoid production naturally.

  1. Eating Dark Chocolates: One of the peculiarities of the ECS is that it produces and also breaks down endocannabinoids. This may be a problem if your body already produces insufficient endocannabinoids. Eating dark chocolates helps to reduce the breakdown of endocannabinoids and increase the latter’s levels in your body.
  2. You can also increase your endocannabinoid levels by exercising more and reducing stressful activities. This is because stress aids the breakdown of endocannabinoids in your body.
  3. Eating food rich in fatty acids. Fatty foods contain arachidonic acids that help the production of endocannabinoids. However, this should be done carefully as too much arachidonic acid could be adverse to your health.
  4. You can also increase your endocannabinoid levels by consuming less alcohol or none at all. This is because heavy drinking makes it even easier for your body to break down endocannabinoids.

In conclusion, the endocannabinoid system is integral to optimal body function and good health. Thus, it’s important to maintain a lifestyle that boosts the operations of the endocannabinoid system for us to maintain the much-needed balance called homeostasis.