The ECS is large and complex with many purposes beyond interacting with cannabis. It regulates a number of processes, such as cardiovascular, nervous, and immune system functions, through cell signaling.
While the ECS is quite complex, there are just a few components you need to understand in order to have a general idea of how it works.
Basic components of the endocannabinoid system
Composed of endocannabinoids, enzymes, and cannabinoid receptors, the primary role of the ECS is to keep the body in homeostasis. This means your body’s internal environment is consistent and well-balanced.
To maintain homeostasis, the endocannabinoid system receives information from cells about changing conditions and actively works to create balance. If the endocannabinoid system doesn’t receive the proper signals, the body can be thrown off balance leading to various conditions.
Cannabinoids and receptors
Within the system are endocannabinoids. These are essentially cannabinoids produced by the human body and used for cell signaling. While our bodies create these endocannabinoid compounds, similar cannabinoids can be found in nature. These are called phytocannabinoids, though they’re typically just referred to as cannabinoids. THC and CBD are the most abundant cannabinoids in the cannabis plant.
Both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids can interact with cannabinoid receptors. Receptors are responsible for transmitting information to cells. We have many cannabinoid receptors in our body, but the best-known ones are cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2).
The location of the receptors determines how they will respond to activation. For example, CB1 receptors are found primarily throughout the brain and spinal cord. THC binds to CB1 receptors and causes users to get high through its effects on the central nervous system. CB2 receptors are mostly found in peripheral tissues, such as the immune and gastrointestinal systems, so activating these receptors leads to different, non-intoxicating effects.
Finally, the endocannabinoid system also contains enzymes. These are responsible for the disposal of used cannabinoids when they no longer serve a purpose. Enzymes work to clean up the overall system.
And then there are transient receptor potential (TRP) channels. These groups of proteins regulate various chemical processes and may act as cannabinoid receptors since they are influenced by signaling from various cannabinoids.
How does the endocannabinoid system work?
When you consume cannabis, you are introducing various cannabinoids into your system. Our bodies already have receptors to interact with our internal cannabinoids, so introducing external cannabinoids can cause different effects.
THC binds with receptors in the brain which causes users to feel high. An abundance of THC can overwhelm the system for some time and interfere with its natural job of cell-signaling. This explains why users may react slower, forget their thoughts, or display a number of other side effects from being high.
CBD, on the other hand, binds indirectly with receptors and can’t activate our CB1 receptors. That’s why it doesn’t get users high.
The endocannabinoid system is complex and scientists only have been aware of its effects since the early ‘90s. There are many other pathways and functions of this system, but we’ve covered the basics of the ECS function.
Don’t forget to stop by our weed store if you’re in Nevada and looking for some Las Vegas weed to test out that endocannabinoid system!