What is the Endocannabinoid System, Anyway?
While people have been enjoying the medicinal effects of cannabinoids for centuries, it wasn’t until the 1990s that researchers were able to determine that the human body actually has specialized receptors that are activated by these compounds. Further research has led to the exploration of what’s now known as the endocannabinoid (endogenous cannabinoid) system; or ECS, for short.
First things first: cannabinoids are either exogenous or endogenous. Those of the exogenous variety come in plant or supplement form and exist outside of the body, while endogenous cannabinoids are produced within our bodies—which means that even without any outside assistance, activities like long-distance runs can trigger a completely natural state of euphoria, a condition that’s been aptly termed a “runner’s high.” While endorphins were once believed to be responsible for creating that particular sensation, studies have since proven that runners will still experience a high even when endorphins are blocked.
The endocannabinoid system is present throughout the brain, organs, immune system, and central nervous system. Though researchers are still working to learn more about the ECS, they’ve discovered that it could be responsible for helping to regulate our memory, appetite, metabolism, mood, energy levels, and much more. Overall, the endocannabinoid system itself has a balancing effect on the body, acting as a bridge between our bodies and minds.
The ECS is made up of three different components: endocannabinoids themselves, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes, which work to process the endocannabinoids. One of our bodies’ principal endocannabinoids is called anandamide. Studies show that anandamide has an effect on our brain reward circuitry, which led to its name—“ananda” is the Sanskrit word for “internal bliss.” (Fun fact: anandamide is also present in chocolate.)
When stressors throw our bodies off track, anandamide will bind to cannabinoid receptors in an effort to achieve homeostasis. And that runner’s high we mentioned before? It’s actually an abundance of anandamide that works to bring that feeling to fruition. Whether you’re partial to long-distance jogs or limbering up with a yoga flow, rigorous physical activity is a great way to get your anandamide levels up.
While plant medicine has long been attributed to wellness, the endocannabinoid system firmly establishes exactly why cannabinoids from CBD to THC have such potent effects on our well-being. As it turns out, our attraction to plant-based assistance is hardly happenstance—our bodies’ naturally-occurring cannabinoids and receptors prime us to receive the additional benefits of a variety of exogenous cannabinoids. While further research is bound to reveal even more ways in which cannabinoids are directly linked to better health, what we know today is more than enough to merit the use of safe, science-backed products that are designed to enhance our own natural high.
- Alger, Bradley E. “Getting High on the Endocannabinoid System.” Cerebrum : the Dana Forum on Brain Science, The Dana Foundation, 1 Nov. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997295/.
- Dietrich, A, and W F McDaniel. “Endocannabinoids and Exercise.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, British Association of Sport and Excercise Medicine, 1 Oct. 2004, https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/38/5/536.