Thirty years ago scientists discovered endocannabinoids, the natural bliss molecules produced by the human body.
After extensive research we now know the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is a biological system composed of endocannabinoids (ECBs), which bind to cannabinoid receptors (CBRs), that are throughout the vertebrate central nervous system, including the brain and peripheral nervous system.
Collectively neurons, neural pathways, molecules, enzymes, ECBs and CBRs make up The ECS.
From countless studies it appears the primary function of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis. That is the process of keeping our bodies in biological harmony, when it responds to environmental changes.
The ECS is an ancient biological system that started evolving with us over 500 million years ago.
The ECS is present in all vertebrates, not just humans. That includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. They all produce ECBs and all have an ECS.
Cannabinoid receptors (CBRs) are present almost everywhere in our bodies. Our skin, immune cells, muscle, kidney, heart, blood vessels, bones, fat tissue, liver, pancreas, skeletal, and gastrointestinal tract.
The two main CBRs are: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found mostly in the brain and nervous system, as well as in organs and tissues. CB1 is the target for the ECB anandamide, which has also been called the Bliss Molecule. The other significant ECB in the ECS is 2-arachidonoylglycerol, or 2-AG for short. 2-AG is abundant in the brain.
The ECS is involved in a wide variety of processes. These include mood, stress, pain, memory, appetite, sleep, metabolism, immune function, and reproduction.
It's been said that endocannabinoids are the most widespread and versatile signaling molecules ever studied.
Enzymes Break Down our ECBs
Functions of the ECS
Balance and metabolism
The endocannabinoid system has been shown to have a role in controlling several metabolic functions, such as energy storage and nutrient transport. It acts on peripheral tissues such as the gastrointestinal tract, the skeletal muscles and the endocrine pancreas. It has also been implied in modulating insulin sensitivity. The ECS may play a role in conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and atherosclerosis.
Endocannabinoids are known to influence synaptic plasticity (which is the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time, in response to increases or decreases in their activity.)
By selectively internalizing different receptors, the brain may limit the production of specific endocannabinoids in accordance with its needs.
Appetite and Taste
Evidence for the role of the endocannabinoid system in food-seeking behavior comes from a variety of cannabinoid studies. It is thought that hypothalamic neurons produce ECBs that work to tightly regulate hunger. The amount of endocannabinoids produced is inversely correlated with the amount of leptin in the blood. A related study found that endocannabinoids affect taste perception in taste cells. In taste cells, endocannabinoids were shown to selectively enhance the strength of neural signaling for sweet tastes, whereas leptin decreased the strength of this same response.
The secretion of hormones in response to stress is an evolutionary response necessary for an organism to respond appropriately to a stressor, persistent stress may be harmful. The ECS creates anandamide and 2-AG during stressful situations.
Studies reveal the essential nature of the endocannabinoid system in regulating anxiety-dependence. Cannabinoid receptors produce an anti-anxiety function by inhibiting excessive arousal. GABAergic neurons appear to control an anti-anxiety function by limiting inhibitory transmitter release.
Anandamide and has been shown to act on temperature-sensing TRPV1 channels, which are involved in thermoregulation. TRPV1 is activated by the capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers, which is structurally similar to endocannabinoids. Anandamide has also been found to activate TRPV1 on sensory neuron terminals, and subsequently cause the dilatation of blood vessels.
Increased endocannabinoid signaling within the central nervous system promotes sleep-inducing effects. Studies show anandamide can increase levels of adenosine, which plays a role in promoting sleep.
The ECS is also involved in some of the physiological and cognitive effects of physical exercise, such as contributing to exercise-induced euphoria. In humans, levels of anandamide have been found to rise during physical activity. Since endocannabinoids can effectively penetrate the blood-brain barrier, it suggests that anandamide contributes to the exercise-induced euphoria we know as a "runner's high".