The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays important roles in your body well beyond the process it's named for, which is interacting with cannabinoids found in cannabis and many other plants.
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
The ECS itself is made up of three parts:
Receptors in the nervous system and around your body that endocannabinoids and cannabinoids bond with
Enzymes that help break down endocannabinoids and cannabinoids
Not only is the ECS it a natural part of our bodies, but it's also a crucial one. You may have heard a lot of claims about the medicinal properties of cannabinoids in general or of the cannabinoids THC, BCP and more recently CBD.
The Endocannabinoid System: Crucial for Homeostasis
To understand the ECS, it first helps to understand what homeostasis is.
Basically, homeostasis is your body's efforts to keep everything in the right zone. It tries to keep your internal environment stable and optimal no matter what's going on in the environment around you. Think of all the gauges in the dashboard of a car or airplane. Those all tell the operator whether things are—or aren't—operating in the proper zone.
Just like the electronics in a car or plane, your body works continuously to monitor important levels and functions in your body. Is your temperature too high, too low, or just right? Are your hormone levels what they should be? Is your heart beating too fast? Do you need fuel or rest? Is too much of something building up in your bloodstream or inside of your cells?
When something is operating outside of the right range, your body activates the ECS to help correct it. So when you're really hot and begin to sweat, thank your ECS for working to cool you down. Stomach growling? That's your ECS helping remind you to eat because you need fuel.
The ECS does this via cannabinoid receptors found in select tissues. We have (at least) two types of cannabinoid receptors:
CB1 which is in the central nervous system (brain and nerves of the spinal cord)
CB2 which is in the peripheral nervous system (nerves in your extremities), the digestive system, and specialized cells in the immune system