The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system identified in the early 1990s by researchers exploring THC, a well-known cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis. The ECS is active in your body even if you don’t use cannabis. It’s involved 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.
Endocannabinoids, also known as endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules made by your body. They’re similar to cannabinoids, but they’re produced by your body. Experts have identified two key endocannabinoids so far: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). These help keep internal functions running smoothly. Your body produces them as needed, making it difficult to know what typical levels are for each.
The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body. Endocannabinoids bind to them in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action. There are two main endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells. Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The effects depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.
Finally, enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function. There are two main enzymes responsible for this: fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA, and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG.
Understanding the ECS is crucial because it could hold the key to treating various medical conditions. It’s thought that by modulating the ECS, it may be possible to treat conditions such as chronic pain, inflammation, mood disorders, and other medical issues. Researchers continue to explore the vast potential of the ECS in the hope of uncovering new therapeutic strategies based on the principles of endocannabinoid regulation.