There’s a powerful, far-reaching system inside every person, yet most people don’t know it’s there. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) keeps your body balanced and, when combined with cannabis, can provide a range of potential benefits for Michigan dispensary customers.

You’d think cannabis would have to be involved with a name like endocannabinoid, but not necessarily.

“The endocannabinoid system exists throughout our lives – even before we’re born,” says Dr. Ruth Ross, Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Toronto. “It’s there in people who have never been exposed to cannabis. It explains how cannabis works, but cannabis is not why it exists.”

So why does the endocannabinoid system exist? In the simplest terms, the ECS exists to promote homeostasis. It maintains bodily balance despite internal or external changes.

If your body is an orchestra, the endocannabinoid system is its conductor, leading the way and keeping everything in rhythm. It’s the firm but gentle schoolteacher who steps onto the playground when the kids aren’t playing nice. Or, according to Dr. Rachel Knox, co-founder of the American Cannabinoid Clinics, it’s an apartment building. 

“Let’s say the endocannabinoid system is your apartment building, and your next-door neighbor is making a lot of noise. You walk across the hallway, and ask them to turn the volume down,” says the certified cannabinoid medicine specialist based in Oregon. 

“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 checks these processes back into balance so that your body can relax, remember to eat, fall asleep and forget traumatic experiences.”

Doctor holding cannabis

Endocannabinoids and Science: A Brief History

If the endocannabinoid system is so important, why aren’t more people talking about it? For starters, it’s a relatively recent discovery.

People have consumed cannabis medicinally for more than 4,700 years. Still, we didn’t understand how the plant worked until 1964, when Yechiel Gaoni and Raphael Mechoulam first isolated and identified tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

“THC, referred to as a “cannabinoid” (like the dozens of other unique constituents of cannabis), acts on the brain by muscling in on the intrinsic neuronal signaling system, mimicking a key natural player, and basically hijacking it for reasons best known to the plants,” writes Dr. Bradley Alger, Professor Emeritus of Physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. 

It was suspected that THC could bind tightly to receptors in the brain and help shape its physiological processes. Researchers confirmed the theory in 1990 with the isolation and cloning of the first cannabinoid receptor, CB1, and later CB2. CB1 is most often found in the central nervous system, while CB2 exists mostly in the immune system.

So if we’re born with THC receptors in our brain, does that mean we’ve evolved to consume cannabis?

Not exactly.

It’s a coincidence that phytocannabinoids like THC “fit” our CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 and CB2 receptors evolved to react with endocannabinoids – cannabinoids produced naturally within the human body. The first two endocannabinoids were discovered in 1992, again by Mechoulam’s group: anandamide and 2-AG.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

How do endocannabinoids work

Endocannabinoids aren’t like normal neurotransmitters. ECS neurotransmitters work in reverse.

Presynaptic neurons usually release a chemical neurotransmitter that travels across the synapse to the postsynaptic neuron. 

Endocannabinoids, however, are made and released from postsynaptic cells and travel backward across the synapse to CB1 receptors. When they get there, they inhibit the release of many excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters.

“By releasing endocannabinoids, postsynaptic target cells can influence their own incoming synaptic signals,” writes Alger.

How do endocannabinoids help?

The endocannabinoid system influences bodily processes and, when combined with cannabis, can provide a range of potential benefits for our Muskegon, Michigan provisioning center customers:

  • Central nervous system: The ECS protects neurons and generates new ones. It also regulates neuroinflammation, controls memory processing aspects, and helps people bury traumatic life experiences. 
  • Immune system: The ECS regulates immune responses in the body and the brain, and helps manage inflammation. 
  • Metabolism: The ECS influences when you feel hungry and feel full. It also controls energy storage and insulin sensitivity.  
  • Gastrointestinal system: The ECS helps regulate the GI tract and reduce inflammation. 
  • Hormones: The ECS regulates the body’s response to stress and secretion of reproductive hormones.
  • Bones: The ECS stimulates bone formation and prevents bone resorption.

The endocannabinoid system isn’t fully understood, but its potential for curing illness is vast. Promising research is underway, particularly on how cannabis can address migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. 

Learning more about the endocannabinoid system helps us explain cannabis’s benefits with scientific reasoning, boosting its credibility.

Drop by our Muskegon, Michigan provisioning center to learn more about cannabis. Our friendly and knowledgeable budtenders are always happy to help.