To understand the role of our endocannabinoid system, it’s important to first understand what homeostasis is. Homeostasis is the body’s ability to maintain a relatively stable internal environment despite the ever changing conditions of the external world. This could be through thermoregulation, immune response or glucose control to give but a few examples. This internal equilibrium allows the body to function optimally, with its stability forming the basis of many vital physiological processes.
The endocannabinoid system or ECS is the means by which our bodies achieve this stable internal environment although this system is not unique to humans but rather present in all animals. The ECS plays a critical role in the nervous system and regulates multiple physiological processes such as appetite, digestion, mood and coordination. In addition it has a significant influence on immune response, cardiovascular function, hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (also known as our stress response), neural development and intra ocular pressure.
The ECS regulates and maintains homeostasis between the various systems mentioned above though the use of endocannabinoids. These naturally produced neurotransmitters exert their regulatory effect primarily upon cannabinoid receptors that are distributed throughout the human body. Regulatory enzymes involved in either the breakdown or formation of endocannabinoids make up the third and final component of the ECS.
In essence, the ECS is a means of communication between the various cells and systems in our bodies. A break down in this communication system has been proposed as a possible root cause for many common ailments experienced today. The term CED or Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency was coined by Dr. Ethan Russo in 2003. A pioneer in the field of cannabis research, his theory has gained traction as the importance of the ECS has been highlighted in subsequent findings.
The ECS was so named because it was only recently discovered in 1992 whilst studying the phytocannabinoid; delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is found in abundance in the leaves and flowers of some cannabis species. The two most abundant phytocannabinoids in the cannabis species are THC and CBD. They are able to interact with our own ECS in a similar way to our own endogenously produced endocannabinoids. Due to their plant origins they were christened phytocannabinoids.