The Endocannabinoid System Part 1: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS, for short) has three components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. Okay, but what is an endocannabinoid?

Endocannabinoid System: What is It and What Does It Do?

The prefix “endo” is short for endogenous, which means naturally produced inside the body. “Cannabinoid” means “of cannabis,” so the word “endocannabinoid” refers to cannabis-like substances that our body naturally creates. The plant was discovered before we knew about these particular internal workings, and that’s why scientists named the ECS after the cannabis plant.

Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids, which then bond with the receptors in the nervous system, and then special enzymes help to break down any excess or already used endocannabinoids.

These three pieces work together to create homeostasis, which is a scientific way to explain a state of balance and order. The ECS interacts with numerous aspects of the body, constantly making precise adjustments in order to maintain a consistent state of equilibrium.

Endocannabinoid system, what you need to knowHave you ever tried to carry a full-to-the-brim hot beverage up the stairs? If so, you may have noticed how the slightest sway off balance can cause a spill. As you climb the stairs, you make small adjustments to keep the cup full as you move forward. You might tighten your grip on the mug, or slow down, or step more gently, etc. in order to keep the liquid level stable. Once you reach your destination and set down the cup, you no longer need to expend such focus, so you relax and turn your attention to whatever task is next.

This release of focus is similar to what happens after the endocannabinoids have hooked up with the receptors and made any necessary adjustments. Next, specific ECS enzymes appear on the scene to clean up and break down any remaining endocannabinoids, now that their job is done.

For example, if your body needs fuel, your ECS will signal your stomach to growl, to let you know it’s time to eat. If you get too hot, your ECS will instruct your body to start sweating in order to cool down your skin. No matter what happens in your environment, your endocannabinoid system is always seeking to bring the inner workings of your body back into balance. For example, if you transition from a very warm environment to a very chilly one, your ECS will respond quickly to make adjustments throughout your body.

In part 2, we’ll look at certain functions of the endocannabinoid system. In other words, we’ll explore the specific effects of the ECS at work, and some of the countless ways it benefits you. Click here to read part 2 now.

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