So the endocannabinoid system resides within all animals, except the insect. It’s a six hundred million year old messenger and receptor system integral to homeostasis or the management of balance within your BODY. There is not a single function in your bodies that is not somehow influenced or modulated by the ECS. You can think of it as a switchboard functioning in and across all physiologic processes and organs. It is acting and reacting to internal and external stimuli to direct communication, correct signaling, and overall managing your health.
The endocannabinoid system can be broken down into four core components. First up we have the cannabinoid receptors like CB1, CB2 and CB3 as you can see here. For everything from your brain and nervous system, to your gastrointestinal system, immune functions and the biggest organ on our body, our SKIN!
Here we see a detailed close up look at the receptors themselves, what we call the communication systems. These connect to neurons and all the information highways in every part of us. We have the ligands that bind to those receptors and initiate an action called endocannabinoids (or body made cannabinoids) like an anandimide (A-NAN-DI-MIDE) and 2-AG. And we have the synthesizing enzymes that make these endocannabinoids on demand when they’re needed, and the decorative enzymes that break them down after they’re used and it works through something called retrograde signaling.
So illustrated in this diagram is the route of an endocannabinoid that’s made in a postsynaptic neuron in response to neurotransmitter stimulation. It then travels backwards or retrograde across the synapse where it binds to a cannabinoid receptor on the presynaptic membrane to initiate an action. In this case, blocking the release of neurotransmitters. *
So let me break it down a little bit simpler. It’s an analogy so… let’s say the endocannabinoid system is your dormitory or your apartment building, and your neighbor across the hall is making a lot of noise and they’re getting really loud. You can just walk across the hall and you politely ask them to turn the volume down… this is what the Endocannabinoid system is tasked to do. So you can imagine how important this function is when cells are sending signals of stress, pain or inflammation. Like your noisy neighbor, these processes need to be checked and it’s through this mechanism that the endocannabinoid system checks these processes back into balance so that your body can relax, remember to eat, fall asleep, forget traumatic experiences and protect itself along with a host of other mediating and restorative processes.
The endocannabinoid system keeps your body in balance.
*Taken from page 35-39 of “CBD, What you need to know” by Dr. Gregory Smith