The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a widespread neuromodulatory system that plays important roles in central nervous system (CNS) development, synaptic plasticity, and the response to endogenous and environmental insults. The ECS is comprised of cannabinoid receptors, endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), and the enzymes responsible for the synthesis and degradation of the endocannabinoids. The most abundant cannabinoid receptor is the CB1 cannabinoid receptors, however CB2 cannabinoid receptors, transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, and peroxisome proliferator activated receptors (PPAR’s) are also engaged by some cannabinoids.
The endocannabinoid system remains under preliminary research, but may be involved in regulating physiological and cognitive processes, including fertility, pregnancy, pre- and postnatal development, various activity of immune system, appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory, and in mediating the pharmacological effects of cannabis.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) has emerged as an important neuromodulatory system over the last twenty-five years. Relevant to the topic of this special issue of Biological Psychiatry, perturbations of the ECS are involved in several psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. The ECS is comprised of endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), cannabinoid receptors, and the enzymes responsible for the synthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids.
In the past decade, the endocannabinoid system has been implicated in a growing number of physiological functions, both in the central and peripheral nervous systems and in peripheral organs. More importantly, modulating the activity of the endocannabinoid system turned out to hold therapeutic promise in a wide range of disparate diseases and pathological conditions, ranging from mood and anxiety disorders, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, to cancer, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, hypertension, glaucoma, obesity/metabolic syndrome, and osteoporosis, to name just a few.
Experts are still trying to fully understand the ECS. But so far, we know it plays role in regulating a range of functions and processes, including sleep, mood, appetite, memory, reproduction and fertility.
The ECS exists and is active in your body even if you don’t use cannabis.
The ECS is complicated, and experts haven’t yet determined exactly how it works or all of its potential functions.
Researches have linked the ECS to the following processes: appetite and digestion, metabolism, chronic pain, inflammation and other immune system responses, mood, learning and memory, motor control, sleep, cardiovascular system function, muscle formation, liver function, reproductive system function, stress and nerve function.
These functions all contribute to homeostasis, which refers to stability of your internal environment. For example, if an outside force, such as pain from an injury or a fever, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS kicks in to help your body return to its ideal operation.
Today, experts believe that maintaining homeostasis if the primary role of the ECS.
How does CBD interact with the ECS?
The other major cannabinoid found in cannabis is cannabidiol (CBD). Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t make you “high” and typically doesn’t cause any negative effects.
Experts aren’t completely sure how CBD interacts with the ECS. But they do know that it doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors the way THC does.
Instead, many believe it works by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down. This allows them to have more of an effect on your body. Others believe that CBD binds to a receptor that hasn’t been discovered yet.
While the details of how it works are still under debate, research suggests that CBD can help with pain, nausea, and other symptoms associated with multiple conditions.
The ECS plays a big role in keeping your internal processes stable. But there’s still a lot we don’t know about it. As experts develop a better understanding of the ECS, it could eventually hold the key to treating several conditions.