WHAT IS THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM (ECS): AN OVERVIEW

All vertebrates have endocannabinoid systems, be they fish, birds, cats or dogs. Cannabinoid receptors can be found all over your body. The highest concentration is in your central nervous system and brain (where they’re called CB1 receptors) and in your immune system and inflammatory cells (where they’re called CB2 receptors). Your body produces billions of endocannabinoids every day. These bind to endocannabinoid receptors to help you sleep, eat, remember where you put your keys, and start healing after injury. When endocannabinoids have completed their tasks, they are eliminated by enzymes.

 

In your brain, endocannabinoids play a role similar to that of neurotransmitters—transporting messages from one neuron to another. However they differ from other neurotransmitters. rather than sending messages with instructions for your body, they actually slow down the brain’s signalling. According to Mohini Ranganathan, MBBS, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University and a CBD researcher: “When there’s too much neurotransmission going on — which you might experience as a racing mind, high anxiety, or even an increase in pain — endocannabinoids in the brain help pump the brakes.” This likely explains why so many people in Canada swear by CBD’s anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effects.

 

Another function of cannabinoids is to balance endocannabinoid levels when there is either a shortage or over-production of these compounds. A healthy ECS makes its own endocannabinoids which affect the experience of anxiety or pain. However, for some cannabinoid production is too low—or in some cases, overactive enzymes eliminate them before they do their jobs. “We think CBD binds to those CB2 receptors to inhibit the release of pain signalling,” says Mark Wallace, MD, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of California San Diego. CBD is also thought to permit the body’s naturally-produced cannabinoids to remain in our bodies longer, prolonging their effects.