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December 28, 2019
Your body is full of different systems that you’ll be familiar with, like the skeletal system, cardiovascular system, and so on. But there’s another system which we’ve learned about in recent decades you probably didn’t learn in high school. It’s called the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, and it performs all kinds of functions that keep your body feeling right!
Cannabis-positive news sites and blogs sometimes come off reading a bit like the snake oil pitches of “ye olde” times… or the jade “vaginal eggs” of Gwyneth Paltrow was slinging for $66 on Goop.com. Skeptical people often dismiss claims about cannabis for this reason alone, and it’s a reasonable position to take. After all, “If it sounds too good to be true…,” right?
You may have a family member who asks at Christmas about the bottle of tincture or lotion in your bag or a co-worker that saw you vaping CBD when leaving the holiday party. Knowing about your ECS is important if you want to explain how cannabis does what it does for your body.
The endocannabinoid system is a communication network in your body that is full of receptors that bind to cannabinoids and the enzymes that break them down. Its purpose is to keep all the body’s different functions in homeostasis, or balance, with itself and keep working in harmony .
You may not know it yet, but you’re basically stuffed to the gills with cannabinoids whether you’ve ever consumed cannabis or not. The main property that makes these cannabinoids different from those in hemp or cannabis is that these are produced inside your body, so we call them endocannabinoids (“endo” meaning “inside”) . Endocannabinoids behave similarly those produced in the cannabis plant. We call the ones made by cannabis phytocannabinoids (“phyto” meaning “plant”) .
The two endocannabinoids, or eCBs, that we’re currently aware of are called anandamide (Ananda meaning “bliss” in Sanskrit) and 2-AG (full name 2-arachidonoylglycerol – yep, we prefer 2-AG, too). They act as signaling agents to the body, resulting in functions like causing fever to combat disease or inflammation as a pain response.
These endocannabinoids bind with receptors that were discovered in the 1980s and 90s called the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The eCBs fit into these receptors much like keys into locks. CB1 and CB2 receptors are found all over your body, each favoring their own places in the body. For example, the CB1 is found more often in nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are more common in the immune system appearing on white blood cells, your tonsils, and your spleen .
When endocannabinoids bind to their receptors in your cells, they form what resembles a large relay network. This network is used by your body to regulate homeostatic mechanisms and keep your body from imbalances.
Let’s say you’re having a stressful episode, like striding into a sales pitch for a potentially huge client, or there’s a baby scream-crying in the seat behind you on the airplane. These are stressful events that we have evolved defense mechanisms for. One of these mechanisms is the release of a stress hormone called cortisol by your endocrine system.
Cortisol has great survival benefits relating to tissue repair and glucose use by your brain. However, cortisol can have some nasty effects if not regulated out of the system, like digestion and sleep problems .
When your endocrine system starts producing more cortisol, the ECS sees that and begins the on-demand production of endocannabinoids to help reduce it once the immediate stress has passed. Your ECS is also responsive proportional to the induced stress, so if the baby unleashes another Wilhelm scream, or you have another high-stakes meeting shortly after the first, the endocannabinoid system is more equipped to handle it by producing even more eCBs than the first time to quell that cortisol more quickly.
The ECS doesn’t stop at stress management, though. It also helps decide how two types of memories are formed. Helpful memories, like dates or names that you want to remember are strengthened by the binding of endocannabinoids to receptors in the hippocampus (the part of the brain most involved in memory formation).
The endocannabinoid system also attempts to “protect” the brain from forming what are known as “emotionally adverse memories” such as those from abuse, trauma, or injury. They prevent the consolidation and retrieval of these types of memory as well. Making these memories harder to recall in detail can save us further trauma in many cases, so it’s good that your brain doesn’t recall every detail of a painful event. 
That’s only one example of how your ECS keeps your body in homeostasis, but there are many others that show how your endocannabinoid system functions similarly in respect to other functions. It also assists the brain in regulating things like pain, appetite, and sleep rhythms.
Given the relatively recent discovery and cloning of these endocannabinoids, it will take time to learn more about the precise mechanisms by which the ECS operates. We at Modest look forward to sharing with you all we can about this important system in your body and how you can exploit it to your benefit!
- S. Mills
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