Why Everyone Should Know About The Endocannabinoid System
How is it that we have a system in our body, that, arguably, is our MOST IMPORTANT SYSTEM, and we know nothing, absolutely nothing about it? In modern times how could this be the case?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) was discovered in the early 1990s almost simultaneously between several different scientist including Dr. Raphael Mechoulam (who also discovered THC). The main internal chemical mediator which binds at the CB1 neuroreceptor was identified and named anandamide.
The second endocannabinoid neuroreceptor was discovered shortly after the discovery of anandamide and was coined CB2. Scientist discovered the internal chemical mediator that binds to the CB2 neuroreceptor, called 2-AG (1).
A further discovery was made in the early 2000s. Neurologist had always believed that nerves could ONLY fire in one direction. By the late 1990s evidence was being presented that nerves were able to, under certainly circumstances, fire backwards. With the discovery of the ECS, it was also discovered that the ECS was directly responsible for this reverse firing and this was coined reverse signaling (2).
The ECS is old, very old. We developed it in the same common ancestor where we diverged from insects. Almost every non-insect life form on the planet has an ECS. We can go as far back as something called a sea squirt and identify that it had a functional ECS, a very basic stomach, and somewhat of a nervous system. It certainly appears that our central nervous system and our ECS are closely related. By function, it appears that our ECS sits above our central nervous system (3).
The ECS is the oldest (and by virtue most important) system in our bodies!
It is appearing that the ECS is our master regulatory system. While there has not yet been the “definitive” study here, most researchers are agreeing that this is the case. Copious amounts of research can be found at nih.gov and using the keyword “endocannabinoid”. Try pairing endocannabinoid with “immune system” or “feeding and craving” or “cognitive”. As you begin to read this research it is very apparent that the ECS is the regulatory down and through every major human system. In fact, the ECS is the ONLY system in the body that can touch every cell. (4) (5)
The ECS manages EVERY function in our body..either directly or indirectly..cholesterol level, temperature, how we eat, when we eat, how and when we sleep, how we manage pain, our immune response, how we think, how we feel.
The ECS is a resource driven system. In order to better understand this, let's move to a system that we understand pretty well. Most of us know about dopamine and serotonin. We know that it takes these two chemical mediator to run our “happy sauce” and to keep us thinking clearly. Diseases of lack of dopamine and serotonin are things like Parkinson's and other diseases of the brain. Most “mood” issues are thought to be inadequate dopamine and serotonin regulation (ECS related).
So where do dopamine and serotonin come from? Don’t feel bad, most phd’s cannot answer that question! We have to eat for dopamine and serotonin!
We break down dopamine and serotonin from foods that we eat, in particular foods that contain l-tryptophan. Most foods do, so nothing really to worry about. The point of the story is this…if I were to deny you food with l-tryptophan, you would not be able to generate dopamine and serotonin and you would become horribly depressed and would not think clearly. THIS IS A RESOURCE DRIVEN SYSTEM. WE HAVE TO EAT FOR IT! (6) (7)
The ECS is a resource driven system that we must eat for. We are all horrible malnourished with resources for this system as we do not yet understand how to eat for it.
Summary and Early Anecdotal Data
Our research is indicating that the ECS can be effected predictably from external resources. In particular those resources include cannabis, certain herbs and spices, certain fatty acids, temperature, and pressure. Cannabis provides an excellent “intervention” therapy, but it is relatively short lived. Long term and lasting changes are achieved by diet change and supplementation with ECS plant resources. For instance, black pepper contains a flavonoid called b-caryophyllene that modulates the CB2 neuroreceptor. Turmeric contains a flavonoid that has effects at the CB1 neuroreceptor and this is (arguably) why the synergize.
With diet, it is appearing that the ECS is linked to omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and in particular how we balance these in our diets. The western diet is misbalanced at about 1 omega 3 for every 20 omega 6’s in our diet. Research data indicates that we are breaking down exactly as predicted with this misbalance. Further, this is predictably how we would break down as we fail in our master regulatory system the endocannabinoid system (ECS).