The endocannabinoid system is something most people haven’t heard about, didn’t learn about in school, and rarely comes up in conversation—but it’s one of the most crucial systems involved in supporting your wellness. While scientists continue to build the full picture of what this major signaling network is capable of, here’s what we know so far:
This complex network was first discovered in the 1990s and is a cellular network of cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body. Although it’s a recent scientific discovery, by comparing the genetics of cannabinoid receptors in different species, scientists estimate that the endocannabinoid system evolved in primitive animals over 600 million years ago!
The endocannabinoid system is a central regulatory system that helps to regulate immune, nervous and digestive systems and keeps the body in balance. The endocannabinoid system can keep your internal and cellular environment stable and optimal no matter what’s going on in the environment around you.
Endocannabinoids are found naturally in your body (hence “endo,” meaning “internal”) and the ones found naturally in plants are called phytocannabinoids (like CBD). Since cannabinoids already exist in our body, it’s easy to understand why both internal and external sources work like a "lock and key” with the body’s endocannabinoid system and receptors.
Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, immune cells, organs, glands, and connective tissues, literally making the endocannabinoid system a gateway between body and mind. They are also found at the intersection of the body's various systems, allowing different cell types to communicate and organize.
“Cannabinoid" is the name given to any compound that interacts with the endocannabinoid system and there are two main kinds of cannabinoid receptors found on cell surfaces—CB1 and CB2. Since they are believed to be more numerous than any other receptor system in the body, they are the “eyes” and “ears” of the cells, receive messages from substances (like CBD) in the bloodstream, and then tell the cells what to do.
Just like you, the animal members of your family — including dogs, cats, and horses — have an endocannabinoid system, In fact, with the exception of insects, research has shown that every animal has an endocannabinoid system.
Just like calcium in our bones can decrease over time, our levels of cannabinoids can also diminish, making you deficient and requiring something to bolster those levels back to homeostasis. Deficiency can occur for a number of reasons like your body not using enough of the available endocannabinoids, not producing enough cannabinoid receptors or outside environmental factors.
As the science of the endocannabinoid system continues to expand, one thing remains clear: a functional endocannabinoid system is essential for optimal wellbeing. Supporting it to do its job of monitoring your body’s functioning and triggering adjustments when needed is a cornerstone of being able to take control of your overall wellbeing.