In order to understand how CBD works, it is important to get an understanding of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS was discovered relatively recently by researchers in the 1990’s and as such, our understanding and scientific literature regarding this complex system is still being developed. However, we know that the ECS has a large part to play in maintaining some core functions of the body, specifically ensuring our body stays in balance (homeostasis). The ECS has a role in maintaining and regulating several bodily functions such as such as cognitive functions, mood, hunger, temperature control, immunity responses, among others. 

Table of Contents

How does the Endocannabinoid System work? 

How are endocannabinoids produced in the human body? 

What is the function of the ECS?

How does CBD interact with the ECS?

Bottom Line

How does the Endocannabinoid System work? 

Broadly speaking, the ECS relies on three main components, namely, endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.

Kenneth.jh.han, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids are also called endogenous cannabinoids. They are essentially naturally occurring, lipid-based neurotransmitters that allow chemical signals to transmit between different nerve cells within the human body. Endocannabinoids are necessary for various functions within the body and are produced as required. Two endocannabinoids have been identified so far, but it is believed that several others are yet to be discovered. 

The two endocannabinoids identified so far are: 

  • Anandamide (AEA or arachidonoyl ethanolamide)
  • 2-archidonoyl glyerol (2-AG)

Receptors

Endocannabinoid receptors are primarily present in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Endocannabinoids work closely with these receptors or are bound to them to produce a signal for the ECS to take action. 

There are primarily two endocannabinoid receptors that have been identified to be present in the body: 

  • CB1 receptors – these are present in the central nervous system
  • CB2 receptors – these are generally found in the peripheral nervous system and immune cells

Enzymes

Enzymes assist the ECS in performing its function of breaking down endocannabinoids in the body. Two main enzymes are responsible for this function: 

  • Fatty acid amide hydrolase is responsible for breaking down AEA
  • Monoacylglycerol acid lipase is responsible for breaking down 2-AG

How are endocannabinoids produced in the human body? 

Endocannabinoids are present in various regions around the human body, such as tissues, muscles, and organs. They are produced naturally and only become active when bound to receptors. Endocannabinoids primarily become active when a bodily function is out of balance. 

For instance, if the body’s overall temperature has exceeded the normal range, endocannabinoids will bind with receptors to signal the ECS to take action. The ECS will then regulate the temperature back to normal without interfering with any other function within the body. The  enzymes will then act on the released endocannabinoids to avoid overcorrecting the problem. 

What is the function of the ECS?

The function of cannabinoids in the ECS is quite vast, and researchers are still yet to fully understand it. However, it is believed that their primary role in the human body is homeostasis which is the body’s means of maintaining stability and optimal conditions of all bodily functions. Irrespective of external influences, homeostasis ensures that your body is functioning in balance. Therefore, research suggests that the ECS helps regulate functions such as metabolism, pain, sleep, mood, immune responses, learning, and others. 

How does CBD interact with the ECS?

It is known that cannabinoids interact with endogenous cannabinoids in the body for the effective functioning of the ECS. However, these phyto-cannabinoids have different effects on the ECS. 

Cannabidiol or CBD is also a chemical compound of cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t bind with the receptors and is believed to prevent the enzymes from breaking down released endocannabinoids to promote the more effective functioning of the ECS. 

Bottom Line

The ECS is a complex cell-signalling network that is crucial for the smooth functioning of the human body. A lot is yet to be discovered of this complex system. The ECS is also believed to have therapeutic targets with the potential to treat a variety of health conditions.