What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a relatively new discovery. Around 25 years ago, scientists investigating the effects of THC (the psychoactive element of the cannabis plant) discovered the ECS — an important signalling system in the body1. Among its many important roles, the ECS is responsible for regulating homeostatic mechanisms within the body, such as temperature and hormone control, emotional responses and the immune response.
The system is made up of cannabinoid receptors which are found in tissues all around the body. The two main types of receptor are CB1 — found in the brain and nerves of the spinal cord — and CB2 — which are found in the digestive and immune systems as they are thought to help regulate inflammation and immunity. These clever receptors help to regulate everything from our appetite, mood, memory and sleep, to temperature and pain. Once the endocannabinoids have helped bring about the necessary state of balance, enzymes arrive to help secure this state of equilibrium.
What health conditions is the ECS linked to?
While studies may be relatively new, scientists believe this intricate network could potentially hold the key to a wide range of diseases and conditions. Research suggests that the ECS could be linked to mood and anxiety disorders, anorexia, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), acute pain, and neurological disorders like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis (MS).2, 3, 4 There is also evidence to suggest that simple lifestyle factors such as stress, diet and exercise can take their toll on the ECS.
What is the difference between CBD and THC?
Studies have investigated different ways to support your endocannabinoid system, with many researching cannabinoids as the solution. While the body makes its own cannabinoids (one being anandamide), they can also be found in CBD oil, a natural extract of the hemp plant. Importantly, CBD oil should not be confused with THC. Cannabis plants are illegal in the UK as they contain THC, a psychoactive ingredient that can cause hallucinations and get you ‘high’.
Plant-based cannabinoids (or phytocannabinoid) are legal, and they contain very small amounts of THC, which are not large enough to evoke any psychoactive response. Both compounds interact with your body’s ECS, but with very different effects.
How can CBD oil support your endocannabinoid system?
One known effect of CBD oil on the ECS is its ability to stop the FAAH enzyme from breaking down the anandamide, the body’s natural cannabinoid. As part of the homeostatic system, anandamide is known to have a positive effect on mood, which is why CBD oil is thought to improve mood. One cross-species study found that animals and humans who exhibited higher anandamide levels displayed more signs of positive mood.5
Further studies have found CBD oil to have a positive effect when treating anxiety disorders, chronic pain and even high blood pressure. 6, 7, 8, 9. Experts have also discovered how several conditions appear to be linked to disrupted endocannabinoid signalling, including fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).10
How to increase the amount of CBD in your body
There are a number of natural ways thought to boost the number of feel-good cannabinoids in your body, for example by increasing your intake of omega 3, or exercising more. One study found that increasing the amount of time you exercise could also increase serum concentrations of endocannabinoids in the body.11
However, if you experience any number of conditions related to the ECS, you might consider supporting your body’s natural endocannabinoid processes through supplementation. When selecting high-quality CBD, look for an oil endorsed by the Cannabis Trades Association, as this ensures that the product is certified as legal, ethical and of the highest quality.
1 Hui-Chen Lu and Ken Mackie (2015). An introduction to the endogenous cannabinoid system, Biol Psychiatry
2Ethan B Russo (2008). Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain, Therapeutic and Clinical Risk Management
3Pal Pacher, Sandor Batkai (2006). The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy, Pharmacol Rev
4 Natalya M. Kogan (2007). Cannabinoids in health and disease, Dialogues Clin Neuroscience
5 Iva Dincheva, Andrew T. Drysdale, Catherine A. Hartley, David C. Johnson, Deqiang (2015). FAAH genetic variation enhances fronto-amygdala function in mouse and human, Nature Communications (volume 6)
6Esther M. Blessing, Maria M. Steenkamp, Jorge Manzanares, and Charles R. Marmar (2015). Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders, Neurotherapeutics
7José Alexandre S Crippa, Guilherme Nogueira Derenusson, Thiago Borduqui Ferrari (2010). Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report, Journal of Psychopharmacol
8Wei Xiong, Tanxing Cui, Kejun Cheng, Fei Yang, Shao-Rui Chen, Dan Willenbring, Yun Guan, Hui-Lin Pan, Ke Ren, Yan Xu, and Li Zhang (2014). Cannabinoids suppress inflammatory and neuropathic pain by targeting α3 glycine receptors, Journal of Experimental Medicine
9Sultan SR, Millar SA, England TJ, O'Sullivan SE (2017). A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Haemodynamic Effects of Cannabidiol, Frontiers in Pharmacology
10Ethan B. Russo (2016). Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research
11A Dietrich, WF McDaniel (2004). Endocannabinoids and exercise, British Journal of Sports Medicine