What is the Endocannabinoid System?

Many of us already know that cannabinoids are the helpful compounds.  They come from the cannabis plant and are thought to have healing properties.  Hemp research and medical marijuana research show this time and time again. “Endo”, is simply the greek root word that means “within” or “containing”, and it often refers to phenomena that occur within our own bodies (“endogenous” phenomena).

So the Endocannabinoid System (EC) allows us to process and utilize cannabinoids to optimize our health.  In essence, according to UCLA Heath’s Human Endocannabinoid System article, “the main function of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain bodily homeostasis—biological harmony in response to changes in the environment.”

The initial thought was that the EC System was limited to the brain and nervous system.  Now, we’re finding that it lives in many different tissue types.  How do we maximize the benefits of the EC System in our bodies though?  One answer, possibly the most important answer, lies in regulating the bioavailability of the compounds our bodies produce as well as the compounds that we take in.

What is Bioavailability?

All compounds that benefit humans (and animals, too), whether proven to be beneficial through medical marijuana research, or just thought to be healthy based on anecdotes, have a threshold of potential good that they can’t surpass.  It’s more of a benefit ceiling than a threshold, really.  In any case, we strive to absorb as much of the potential good from each of these compounds as possible.  Regulating “Bioavailability” is what allows us to do this.

According to Merck Manual’s Drug Bioavailability article, “Bioavailability refers to the extent and rate at which the active moiety (drug or metabolite) enters systemic circulation, thereby accessing the site of action.”  Many of us aren’t doing what we can to optimize the bioavailability and absorption of different compounds in our bodies.  With that said, it’s never too late to start learning and trying to do so.  In fact, it’s too late NOT to start doing so.

The Entourage Effect

To begin with, many compounds depend on the presence of other compounds in order to do their job within the body.  Even THC and CBD support one another in this way.

Imagine for a moment that your body is a restaurant, and the compounds we’re talking about are people.  Sure. People go to restaurants by themselves at times. They would much rather go with a date or a group of friends though.  If they go with a date or group of friends, they have a better, more impactful night, and it’s noticeable.

In the EC System, and more broadly among the compounds found in our diets, this impactful experience is called the “Entourage Effect“.  This term refers to the synergy of different compounds when absorbed into the body in conjunction with one another rather than individually.

One of the best things you can do to improve bioavailability (and support the Entourage Effect) for cannabinoids and other compounds is maintain a relatively varied and balanced diet of mostly whole/natural foods.  While tricky to pull off, even intentionally making just one complete meal from whole foods daily can enhance the bioavailability of micronutrients and cannabis compounds for your body.

What does the Endocannabinoid System theoretically do for us?

This system isn’t just vestigial from some past time when our bodies could use it.  Whether producing its own cannabinoids, or being stimulated by exogenous cannabinoids (like THC and CBD), the Endocannabinoid System provides a full range of benefits.  Here’s a quick look at some of the functions that it is thought to help regulate:

  • Pain
  • Memory
  • Mood
  • Appetite
  • Stress
  • Sleep
  • Metabolism
  • Immune Function
  • Reproductive Function

You might notice a few items missing from this list.  That’s because the list is lengthy.  We’re STILL finding symptoms and health conditions that we can improve by using our EC System to our advantage.  That pattern is likely to continue well into the future.

But what exactly connects cannabinoids to our EC System?

We can’t think of a tougher question to answer with regard to this topic. The medical marijuana research community is still working on figuring out the process of the EC System.  The presence of Endocannabinoid Receptors in most of our bodily tissues lets us know that those tissues use cannabinoids for the purposes of nourishment, repair, and homeostasis.

First, it’s important to note the 3 main building blocks on which the larger system relies.  Very Well Health spells this out in What Is the Endocannabinoid System?.  The author notes that all cannabinoid function in the body is reliant upon the following:

  1. Cannabinoids/Endocannabinoids – Endogenous and exogenous compounds that our bodies use to course correct and achieve homeostasis.
  2. Endocannabinoid Receptors – Right now we know of two types of receptors that allow for cannabinoid absorption.  We have CB1 and CB2 receptors.  CB1 receptors are found in the Central Nervous System, whereas CB2 receptors are found in the Peripheral Nervous System and specialized tissues/cells.
  3. Enzymes – Much like enzymes found in other systems, these enzymes bind/pair with incoming structures.  That pairing allows receptors to absorb and utilize those incoming structures.

In short, endocannabinoids, cannabinoids, and other compounds are trying to access all available tissues.  The CB1 and CB2 Endocannabinoid receptors form the doorways that lead to those tissues. The enzymes that bind with compounds act like keys that unlock those doorways for absorption.

Keep looking, keep learning

Aside from knowing how the EC System functions to support our health, at least generally, the best thing you can do to maximize the benefits of cannabis for your body is to continue researching the topic.  Even as hemp experts, those of us at 4 Corners Cannabis still frequently find new and interesting facts about, and aspects of, hemp in our research.  Now that we’ve covered the Endocannabinoid System, you can dive a bit deeper and learn about the “Entourage Effect” here.

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