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The ECS

You got your feet wet with our CBD Basics article, now it’s time to take a deeper dive into the many wonderful benefits of CBD. If it’s been a while since you last read our first learning article, click here.

Next, you’ll learn about the ECS (Endocannabinoid System) and how CBD interacts with your body. The content in this article involves a higher level of learning and includes what some would call a nerdy level of information. There’s no need to digest everything that has been written. The key takeaway is the potential therapeutic value that CBD has in your body. 

You Have an ECS in Your Body

No need to be afraid. It’s not a bug or alien creature. (In fact, bugs don’t have it in their bodies.) It’s something good…very good. In fact, your body needs it. And it’s something that scientists estimate evolved in primitive animals over 600 million years ago, but it wasn’t discovered until the existence of cannabinoid receptors in the brain were discovered from in vitro studies in the 1980s. It’s called the “Endocannabinoid System” or ECS for short and we’re all born with it.

The ECS is a complex cell-signaling system first identified in 1988 by researchers Allyn Howlett and William Devane at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in a government-controlled study. It exists in ALL mammalian creatures. Insects however do not have an ECS, but your pets do.

In the early 1990s researcher Raphael Mechoulam (RIP), “the father of cannabis research,” and his team discovered that our bodies have endocannabinoids that activate two compounds in our brain —  anandamide (aka the “bliss molecule”) and 2-arachidonoyglycerol (or 2-AG2). The anandamide molecule binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body to stimulate a sense of happiness and mental wellness. The 2-AG compound is involved in a several physiological functions including emotion, cognition, energy balance, pain sensation, and neuroinflammation. Both play a major role in the endocannabinoid system that’s in your body.

It turns out there are bioactive compounds in the cannabis plant that when extracted mimic the endocannabinoids our bodies naturally make. Two compounds discovered were THC, one of two well-known cannabinoids that come from cannabis/hemp and CBD the other bioactive compound. [1] If you read our CBD Basics article you already know that THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid in the cannabis plant that induces a feeling of being “high”. As important as the ECS is, it is one of the most understudied systems in the human body. 

Experts are still trying to fully understand the ECS, but so far they’ve learned that it plays a diverse role in regulating a range of functions and processes, including: sleep, mood, appetite, memory, reproduction, fertility, anxiety responses, inflammatory effects and more. The ECS is closely linked to maintaining homeostasis, which in short, is a process that living things use to actively maintain stable conditions necessary for survival. When something is operating outside stable conditions, your body activates the ECS to help correct it. The takeaway here is that the ECS is active in your body even if you don’t use cannabis. [2] We’ll discuss how CBD fits into the picture later in this article.

What Does the ECS do?

The ECS uses a complex cell-signaling system, a communication process that cells use with each other to carry out functions within our bodies. It is a fundamental property of all cells and involves a 3-stage process called “signal transduction“.

  1. The first stage is called, reception, where the signal molecule binds to a receptor.
  2. The next stage is signal transduction, which is where the chemical signal results in a series of enzyme activations.
  3. And the final stage is the response, which is the resulting cellular response or responses.

“Receptors don’t exist because there’s a plant out there. Receptors exist because we, through compounds made in our body, activate them.”

“Receptors don’t exist because there’s a plant out there,” said Mechoulam in an interview at the 13th European Congress on Epileptology. “Receptors exist because we, through compounds made in our body, activate them. So we went looking for the endogenous compounds that activate the cannabinoid receptors.”

“I believe over the next decade to 15 years we will have a lot of cannabinoid drugs,” continued Mechoulam, “for a variety of diseases and certainly for epilepsy. Probably the epilepsy drugs will be the first. They may be natural products like CBD, which is an excellent product because it does not have side effects, but also derivatives, and I have no doubt this field will expand to a very large extent as a major field of therapeutics. As we speak today of corticosteroids, we will probably speak in 10 years about cannabinoids and cannabinoid derivatives.”[1]

3 Core ECS Components

The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, enzymes and receptors.

Endocannabinoids, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules made by your body. They’re similar to cannabinoids, but they’re produced by your body. Endocannabinoids bind to the receptors that are all over your body in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action in the form of regulating various cardiovascular, nervous, and immune system functions inside cells.

Enzymes are critical to keeping all of us alive. They are built of proteins creating different three-dimensional shapes. Each shape interacts (binds) with a substrate (molecule) to create specific chemical reactions. Enzymes are essential for respiration, digesting food, muscle and nerve function, among thousands of other roles.

The third core component in the ECS are the receptors. As you learned, these receptors bind with a signal molecule in the first stage of communication between cells. There are two main endocannabinoid receptors – CB1 and CB2:

The Role of THC and CB Receptors

Because THC “mimics” the  endocannabinoids that are naturally produced by your body, it binds with the CB1 and CB2 receptors found in your ECS. As more and more research is done on the therapeutic effects that THC has on the body’s receptors many discoveries are on the horizon. But what about CBD? How does it affect the body? It turns out that CBD activates other receptors and ion channels that also have many positive effects.

How Does CBD Fit Into the Big Picture?

Experts aren’t completely sure how CBD interacts with the ECS; however, they do know that it doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors the way THC does. They also know that CBD is thought to work by inducing other components of the cannabinoid system. CBD affects the ECS by modifying the activity of its transport proteins and enzymes, which in turn modify the concentration of anandamide, the body’s “default” endocannabinoid. This prevents endocannabinoids from being broken down allowing them to have more of an effect on your body. 

CBDs can act as a neurotransmitter and are known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Again, science is just beginning to understand the impact of phytocannabinoids and their clinical applications. [2]

Full Spectrum CBD products contain phytonutrients like terpenes and flavonoids  that have beneficial effects. Some of the beneficial properties of flavonoids include acting as antioxidants, reducing inflammation, preventing mutation, interfering with the development of cancer, and regulating key cellular enzyme functions. [3] 

Therapeutic Effects of CBD

CBD has been embraced by an ever rising populous for its ability to do good within the body. What sorts of therapeutic effects does CBD have? Although research into CBD has been historically very limited due to the prohibition on hemp, thanks to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill), a great deal more research has begun to look deeper into the therapeutics of CBD and the benefits of the over 144 phytocannabinoids found in cannabis/hemp. 

G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are the largest and most diverse group of membrane receptors in eukaryotes. These cell surface receptors act like an inbox for messages in the form of light energy, peptides, lipids, sugars, and proteins. Such messages inform cells about the presence or absence of life-sustaining light or nutrients in their environment, or they convey information sent by other cells.

GPCRs play a role in an incredible array of functions in the human body, and increased understanding of these receptors has greatly affected modern medicine. In fact, researchers estimate that between one-third and one-half of all marketed drugs act by binding to GPCRs.

While these discoveries are significant and indicate the a promising future for the therapeutic value of CBD, the search for undiscovered receptors will continue. 

Exploration of the ECS May Lead to New Drug Discoveries

Study of the ECS was initially focused on attempts to understand (and demonize) an illegal drug, but new research has since flourished into a far more broad-based exploration into what is an astoundingly intricate and far-reaching system by which our bodies learn, feel, motivate, and keep themselves in balance.

Many of us have heard of some of the transmitter systems within our bodies, such as the sympathetic nervous system, which gives us our fight-or-flight response. Fewer have heard of the more recently discovered endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is amazing when you consider that the ECS is critical for almost every aspect of our moment-to-moment functioning. It regulates and controls bodily functions such as learning and memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses, and eating. The ECS is currently at the center of renewed international research and drug development.[4]

CBD May Treat the Following Conditions

Anxiety and Depression

According to a CDC article from April 2, 2021, during August 2020–February 2021, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5%, and the percentage of those reporting an unmet mental health care need increased from 9.2% to 11.7%. Increases were largest among adults aged 18–29 years and those with less than a high school education. But how can CBD help with anxiety and depression?

At high concentrations, CBD directly activates the 5-HT1A (hydroxytryptamine) serotonin receptor, thereby conferring an anti-anxiety effect. The G-coupled protein receptor is implicated in a range of biological and neurological processes, including (but not limited to) anxiety, addiction, appetite, sleep, pain perception, nausea, and vomiting.

Studies involving animal models suggest that CBD exhibited anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. Most of the studies demonstrated a good interaction between CBD and the 5-HT1A neuro-receptor, a signaling hub that is linked to emotional balance.

Nausea and Vomiting

Preclinical research indicates that cannabinoids, including CBD, may be effective clinically for treating both nausea and vomiting produced by chemotherapy or other therapeutic treatments. Learn more here.

Skin Disorders

There are several skin disorders that CBD may help. CBD contains many compounds with oil-reducing, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties that may help improve acne. While the therapeutic potential of CBD for acne, seborrhea, eczema/dermatitis, and skin barrier function is promising, more robust studies are needed to fully validate its efficacy.

Based on skin evaluations (hydration, TEWL, elasticity), clinical questionnaires (SCORAD, ADI, PASI), and supported by photographic data and investigators' clinical assessment, the results showed that topical treatment with CBD-enriched ointment significantly improved the skin parameters, the symptoms and also the PASI index score. No irritant or allergic reactions were documented during the period treatment.

Conclusions: The topical administration of CBD ointment, without any THC, is a safe and effective non-invasive alternative for improve the quality of life in patients with some skin disorders, especially on inflammatory background. [7]

Sleep Disorders

According to the Sleep Foundation, "Research on the effects CBD has on sleep disorders is still preliminary. Some people who use CBD for chronic pain report sleeping better. Currently, it is unclear whether these patients sleep better because of the pain relief or because CBD directly affects their sleep.

Other initial studies of CBD and sleep disorders suggest positive outcomes. However, not everyone experiences the same sleep benefits with CBD use, and different doses might lead to different effects. Research suggests that low doses of CBD are stimulating, while high doses of CBD are sedating."

Sea King CBD recommends starting off with a low dose and slowly working up to a dose that delivers the desired effect. We have a number of different types of CBD products available in different strengths at the Sea King Marketplace

Inflammation

Recently, research has demonstrated that CBD has wide ranging activity in terms of reducing inflammation and the damaging effects of free radicals. Specifically, CBD modulates the function of the immune system. Research would indicate that overall, the effects of this modulation seem to be quite positive.

"The association between cannabinoid-induced anti-inflammatory response and disease severity was examined. In 22 studies where CBD, CBG, or CBD in combination with THC were administered, a reduction in the levels of at least one inflammatory cytokine was observed, and in 24 studies, some improvements in disease or disability were apparent. THC alone did not reduce pro-inflammatory cytokine levels (n=3), but resulted in improvements in neuropathic pain in one study."

The Effects of Cannabinoids on Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Cytokines: A Systematic Review of In Vivo Studies | Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research (liebertpub.com)

Chronic Pain

In adults with chronic pain, patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms. 

Pain patients use topical forms (e.g., transdermal patches and creams). Thus, while the use of cannabis for the treatment of pain is supported by well-controlled clinical trials, very little is known about the efficacy, dose, routes of administration, or side effects of commonly used and commercially available cannabis products in the United States. CONCLUSION 4-1 There is substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults. [6]

The Entourage Effect

Although Cannabis sativa synthesizes a wide range of phytochemicals, much attention has been primarily given to two phytocannabinoids, Δ9-tetrahydocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), due to their distinctive activities in humans.

These bioactivities can be further enhanced through the interaction of THC and CBD with other phytocannabinoids or non-phytocannabinoid chemicals, such as terpenes and flavonoids, a phenomenon that is termed the entourage effect. [5] The Entourage Effect will cover the Entourage Effect in more detail.

Additional Information

We hope you now have a good basic understanding of the ECS and CBD. For those who want to learn more you can explore our FAQ page, our Blog Home or click on the next level of CBD knowledge. Plus, you can always contact us with any questions (or comments) you have. We’ll respond quickly.

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