Understanding the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

Introduction to the ECS 

We will cover what the ECS is, how it works, and why it’s good to know.  

There’s a good chance you’ve heard the term endocannabinoid system (ECS), but what is it exactly and why does it matter? The ECS was only first discovered in 1992, making it one of the biggest discoveries in modern medical science. You would think that would make it complicated to understand, but when you cut out most of the medical jargon and get right to the point, it’s actually easy to comprehend, and quite remarkable.

We all have different regulatory systems in our body that control different functions. Our respiratory system controls our breathing to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. Our cardiovascular system controls the flow of blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, and our endocannabinoid system works to control homeostasis within our body. Homeostasis in our body just means an overall balance, so it supports the regulation of things like sleep, appetite, our immune system, and pain signaling among other things. 

It does this by interacting with cannabinoids, some of which you probably know, like the THC or CBD in your cannabis products or cannabis flower. However, our bodies also produce their own cannabinoids, like  anandamide, which has been linked to causing the euphoric feeling after exercise commonly referred to as “the runner’s high”. These cannabinoids, wether the ones we produce ourselves, or the ones we get from outside sources like cannabis, interact with our ECS in a unique way. They bind themselves to our natural endocannabinoids receptors, known as CB1 and CB2 receptors.

CB1 receptors are linked to our central nervous system, which controls pain signaling and other nerve functions. CB2 receptors are linked to our peripheral nervous system, which controls things like our immune system and inflammation response. This is how cannabis provides pain relief and reduces inflammation, but how does cannabis keep our internal processes balanced for each of us? It’s not a one size fits all answer.

For example, let’s say you’ve had a long day and you haven’t slept well the past few nights. Consuming cannabis will most likely make you sleepy because it’s trying to balance out your sleep cycle, but someone who is well rested may consume the same cannabis and not feel sleepy because they don’t need that balanced out. Maybe instead of needing sleep, you’ve been stressed recently and haven’t been eating much. Consuming cannabis could very well give you the famous munchies often joked about, and you could find yourself in front of plate full of food because that’s what you need balanced out to achieve homeostasis.

This is part of what makes cannabis such a personalized medicine, and why understanding how the ECS works can help you make decisions about your cannabis needs. This is also why it is   important to pay close attention to how different cannabis products and methods of consumption make you feel, in order to get the most medicinal benefit for you personally. Experiment with different products and consumption methods to find the best fit for your condition. 

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