Endocannabinoid stystem 101
I’ve talked many times about how our bodies are already equipped with an endocannabinoid system (ECS). But what is that really? Well, according to the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, “The endogenous cannabinoid system—named for the plant that led to its discovery—is one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health.”
Ethan Russo, MD, medical director, PHYTECHS, “There is hardly any physiological process that is not affected by it to some degree.”
Cannabis and you
Despite records going back almost 5,000 years that document medicinal use of cannabis, a generation ago little was known about the system. Physicians were, and many still are, unaware of the ECS and how it regulates our bodies. Russo explains that there are two primary endocannabinoids, arachidonylethanolamine (AEA), nicknamed anandamide from the Sanskrit word for bliss, and 2-arachidonylglycerol (2-AG). More information than you want, right? I’ll call them CB1 and CB2 for easy identification.
CB1 is found mostly in the nervous system and brain. CB2 is found outside the brain and tends to monitor and regulate the immune system. When the ECS is functioning optimally, you’ll have a general sense of well-being and good health. Our bodies create endocannabinoids to stimulate the receptors. When the balance is off, the receptors can’t do their jobs. Illness or imbalance occurs. On the other hand, to kick-start the system, small doses of cannabinoids from cannabis can signal the body to make more endocannabinoids and build more cannabinoid receptors.
In fact, Dustin Sulak, DO, believes that regular small doses of cannabis can help moderate our central healing system, which in turn could prevent or cure disease.
Unlike traditional pharmaceuticals prescribed by medical professionals, CBD and cannabis work in concert to promote health and combat disease rather than isolate a condition, which often brings about significant side effects and additional problems.
Since the advent of synthetic chemicals that only approach the condition, not the full-body system, plant-derived medicinals have fallen out of favor. Pity. Because, when all the chickens come home to roost, treating the entire body and not just a condition will be our best bet to regulate our health and well-being.
Unfortunately, despite a growing body of evidence, research is spotty and difficult to do based on the fact that even hemp, the nonpsychoactive cousin to marijuana, has been branded as a schedule 1 narcotic. Yet, enough interest has been generated by anecdotal and evidence-based experiences that further study in developing strategies to target conditions using CBD and cannabis show promise for continued study and further advances.