Endocannabinoid System 101
What is the ECS?
The importance of the ECS, short for endocannabinoid system, has only recently been realized and is now being referred to as the most important body system that you’ve never heard of. Although the ECS is one of the primary systems in the body, it’s not an isolated structural system like the nervous system or the vascular system. Instead, the ECS is broadly dispersed throughout the body and is made up of its own receptor sites – like little docking stations – on nearly every organ in the body.
And what does the ECS do?
The ECS is the body’s primary regulatory system. It’s like an internal balancing mechanism, constantly keeping a vast range of bodily functions in equilibrium. The body produces its own endocannabinoids that modulate various biological processes throughout the body, giving these endocannabinoids wide-ranging effects on everything from fertility to pain.
Cannabinoid receptors can be found in the brain, nervous system, GI tract, bone, immune system, skin, and nearly every other organ in the body – and help regulate:
- Bone health
- Caloric metabolism
- Immune function
- Pain sensation
- Skin health
- Stress response
Are there plant sources of cannabinoids?
Yes. We now know that most animals – from fish to birds to mammals – have their own ECS. We also know that while humans make their own cannabinoids that interact with the ECS (called endocannabinoids), there are also compounds that interact with the ECS that are found in a variety of foods and plants – called phytocannabinoids. These plant-based cannabinoids either directly attach to, and have an effect on, cannabinoid receptors – OR – have an effect on the metabolism of endocannabinoids produced in the body. They can slow down their destruction, keeping them in the body longer.
Cannabis (cultivated as hemp) contains numerous phytocannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and many others.
Common non-Cannabis plants that contain phytocannabinoids include black pepper, clove, Echinacea, green tea, Panax ginseng, and black truffles. Within nature, chemical substances rarely act in isolation, and this is especially true of phytocannabinoids, which actually work together in a carefully orchestrated manner.
What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?
Hemp and marijuana are essentially different cultivars of the same plant, Cannabis sativa L. A cultivar is a plant variety that has been produced or cultivated through a process of selective breeding. Marijuana is a form of Cannabis that has been bred to concentrate high levels of the psychoactive compound, THC (tetrahydrocannabinoid), for recreational and medicinal use, often containing about 18% THC. Conversely, hemp is a version of Cannabis that is primarily used in clothing, paper, biofuels, bio-plastics, dietary supplements, cosmetics, and foods. Hemp contains less than 0.3% of THC as measured in the dried flowering tops.
Coming soon to Take 5 Daily:
- Are there regulatory issues around hemp?
- How to shop for a good hemp supplement
- What are the health benefits of hemp?