Beyond Basics: An In-Depth Look at CBD and the Endocannabinoid System (Part One)

If you've been a fan or long-time user of CBD products, you've probably experienced their benefits firsthand. But do you know why they work and how they interact with your body to produce those effects?

You might be surprised to learn that CBD isn't technically a "cure" for any condition. So why does it seem to offer so many benefits? Why do people experience relief from pain, anxiety, and sleeplessness when taking CBD products? The short answer is that it’s not the CBD; it’s your body.

To understand why, we need to explore cannabinoids, the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), and how cannabinoids interact with and support the ECS.

CBD: The Most Well-Known Cannabinoid 

“CBD” has become the catch-all term for products containing cannabinoids from the hemp plant. The 2018 Farm Bill made these products federally legal, provided they contain less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. 

Most CBD products on the market, including Thryv Organics CBD products, are derived from hemp. 

But what are cannabinoids? They are naturally occurring compounds found in the hemp plant, with over 100 different types identified… so far. The most well-known cannabinoids include CBD, THC, CBG, and CBN. 

Cannabinoids aren't the only compounds in the hemp plant. It also contains terpenes and flavonoids; these work alongside cannabinoids to enhance the overall therapeutic benefits of CBD products. 

That's why we recommend using Broad Spectrum or Full Spectrum products rather than CBD isolate products.

Understanding Cannabinoids: Endogenous and Exogenous

Cannabinoids interact with the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which is present in every mammal. The ECS is a complex cell-signaling system discovered in the early 1990s by researchers studying THC. 

This system runs throughout the body and consists of receptors which interact directly and indirectly with cannabinoids.

There are two main types of cannabinoids.

Phytocannabinoids: Plant-Based Cannabinoids 

Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids found in plants, particularly the cannabis plant (both the marijuana and hemp plant). They are exogenous cannabinoids meaning they come from outside of the body.

As mentioned earlier, the most well-known phytocannabinoids include CBD (cannabidiol), THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBG (cannabigerol), and CBN (cannabinol). 

These plant-based cannabinoids support the ECS by interacting with its receptors, helping to maintain balance and health in the body.

Endocannabinoids: The Body’s Own Cannabinoids

Did you know that you produce your own cannabinoids? The ECS produces cannabinoids known as endocannabinoids. These are endogenous cannabinoids, meaning they are naturally produced by the body. 

The two primary endocannabinoids identified are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). 

These molecules are synthesized on demand from lipid precursors present in cell membranes and interact with cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) to help regulate various physiological processes.

Understanding the interaction between these two types of cannabinoids and the ECS is crucial for recognizing how cannabinoids contribute to overall wellness. 

While the ECS plays the primary role in regulating physiological functions, cannabinoids support the ECS in maintaining this vital balance.

Let’s explore the ECS further.

The Role of the Endocannabinoid System

The ECS is one of the most important systems in our bodies, and you likely have either never heard about it or heard little about it. It’s not covered in high school biology courses, but it should be!

Our endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role in regulating and modulating various physiological processes in our body.

  • Neuroplasticity and Synaptic Function: The ECS is vital for neuroplasticity and synaptic function. It helps form and eliminate synapses essential for learning and memory. Endocannabinoids, naturally produced by the body, interact with cannabinoid receptors to regulate these processes.
  • Mitochondrial Activity and Energy Balance: Recent research suggests that the ECS also plays a role in regulating mitochondrial activity and energy balance. The ECS influences cellular energy metabolism, which is crucial for maintaining cellular health and function.
  • Pain Regulation: The ECS plays a significant role in pain modulation and relief. Endocannabinoids can reduce the perception of pain by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system.
  • Immune System Response: The ECS helps regulate immune system responses. It modulates inflammation and can influence the body's immune response to various stimuli, maintaining a balanced immune system.
  • Mood and Stress Response: The ECS is crucial in regulating mood, anxiety, and stress levels. It influences the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are vital for maintaining emotional balance.
  • Appetite and Digestion: The ECS affects appetite regulation and digestive processes. It can stimulate appetite and is involved in maintaining a healthy digestive tract.
  • Sleep Regulation: The ECS is involved in regulating sleep patterns. It helps maintain the sleep-wake cycle and can influence the quality of sleep.
  • Reproductive Health: The ECS plays a role in reproductive processes, including fertility, pregnancy, and the menstrual cycle.

As you can see, our ECS is vitally important to our overall wellness. So much so that experts such as Dr. Rachel Knox, an Endocannabinologist and Certified Cannabinoid Medicine Specialist, suggests that many diseases may stem from ECS dysfunction. 

Endocannabinoid System Dysfunction

Endocannabinoid System (ECS) dysfunction, also known as Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD), refers to an imbalance or malfunction in the ECS. 

When the ECS is not functioning optimally, it can lead to various health issues. Here are some of the symptoms and causes.

Symptoms of ECS Dysfunction

  1. Chronic Pain: Persistent pain without a clear cause could indicate ECS imbalance.
  2. Mood Disorders: Conditions like anxiety, depression, and mood swings may be linked to ECS dysfunction.
  3. Sleep Issues: Insomnia or poor sleep quality can result from ECS dysregulation.
  4. Digestive Problems: Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be related to ECS dysfunction.
  5. Inflammation: Chronic inflammation without an obvious trigger might be due to an impaired ECS.
  6. Frequent Illness: A weakened immune response can indicate ECS issues.
  7. Neurological Issues: Problems like migraines and fibromyalgia have been associated with ECS dysfunction.

Causes of ECS Dysfunction

  1. Genetic Factors: Some people may be genetically predisposed to ECS dysfunction.
  2. Chronic Stress: Prolonged stress can deplete endocannabinoid levels.
  3. Poor Diet: A diet lacking essential fatty acids and other nutrients can impair ECS function.
  4. Lack of Physical Activity: Regular exercise helps maintain healthy endocannabinoid levels.
  5. Environmental Toxins: Exposure to toxins can disrupt ECS balance

In today’s environment, factors such as stress, poor diet, and exposure to toxins can overwhelm this system, leading to dysfunction and, consequently, a range of health issues. 

Recognizing these symptoms and understanding their potential link to ECS dysfunction can help in seeking the right treatments and lifestyle adjustments to restore balance within the body.

In part two, we will further explore how both endogenous and exogenous cannabinoids and their role in interacting and supporting the ECS.

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