If you’ve ever used cannabis before, and even if you haven’t, you’re probably well aware of its benefits. Maybe you’ve experienced them for yourself. Studies show that the plant may help to alleviate many different ailments, including pain, inflammation, anxiety, stress, insomnia, and so much more. These benefits aren’t magic, though. When cannabis enters your system, it interacts with your endocannabinoid system. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the ECS and just how cannabis works with it to provide you with the results you’re seeking.
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system that exists within the human body. Researchers looking into the effects of THC discovered it in the 1990s.
While we still don’t know a whole lot about the ECS, we do know that there are three parts involved:
Endocannabinoids are compounds that your body makes. So far, we know that the body produces two, anandamide and 2-AG, and you make them as needed. These compounds help to ensure that various internal processes run smoothly.
The human body has two types of cannabinoid (CB) receptors, and they exist throughout the body. CB1 receptors reside mainly in your brain and central nervous system. CB2 receptors reside mainly in your peripheral nervous system and immune system. The endocannabinoids your body makes attach to these receptors to produce different effects, such as pain relief or inflammation reduction.
Your body also produces special enzymes for the endocannabinoid system. These enzymes break down the endocannabinoids when they’re finished with their specific functions.
What the Endocannabinoid System Controls
Your endocannabinoid system is responsible for maintaining homeostasis within your body. So far, we know it’s linked to:
- Pain management
- Immune responses
- Reproductive system function
- Learning and memory
When something happens that throws your body off balance, your endocannabinoid system kicks in. Your body produces endocannabinoids that bind with the cannabinoid receptors. They unlock the necessary effects to restore your internal homeostasis.
Cannabis and the Cannabinoid Receptors
You may be wondering what cannabis has to do with your endocannabinoid system. Well, the cannabinoids in the plant (including THC and CBD) act similarly to the endocannabinoids your body makes. THC, in particular, binds with the receptors just like endocannabinoids do. When this happens, you experience relief from pain, anxiety, insomnia, and other effects.
Research on the endocannabinoid system is still limited, but scientists are discovering some interesting things. One major topic of interest is what’s known as endocannabinoid deficiency, a theory that suggests that problems with the endocannabinoid system or low levels of endocannabinoids may be responsible for various ailments like migraines, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and irritable bowel syndrome. Many of these issues have no concrete underlying cause, and they’re often resistant to conventional treatments. Finding a link that connects these conditions with ECS problems could pave the way to a targeted treatment that finally provides relief.
Knowing that cannabis provides relief from your particular ailments is good. Understanding why cannabis works, however, is even better. As we gain a greater understanding of the endocannabinoid system and how cannabinoids work with it, it may eventually become a more mainstream treatment.