In the 1960s, researchers identified the chemical composition of two plant elements in cannabis, CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). That’s when they discovered that THC causes intoxication, and CBD does not. While researchers were recognized for their scientific achievement, the significance of that accomplishment was not entirely clear until more than 20 years later. That’s when researchers discovered two cannabinoid receptors in our bodies. Although it was quite apparent by the late 1980s that we’re wired to respond to cannabinoids, decades of research revealed only part of the story.
Within a few years of isolating those receptors, researchers discovered that our bodies make chemicals that interact with the same receptors that respond to CBD and THC. It didn’t take long for investigators to realize they had uncovered an entire regulatory system no one knew was there, the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Researchers named this essential regulatory system for the plant elements that led to its discovery, cannabinoids.1
Since its discovery, researchers have been investigating how ECS function works, what it does, and what can happen when ECS signaling isn’t functioning quite as it should. Since ECS function regulates nearly every essential process in your body, you’ll likely find it helpful to know some of the signs suggesting a regulatory system challenged by endocannabinoid system deficiency.
Recognizing the Three Main Components of ECS Function
While the scientific community cautions that there’s still a lot to be learned about the specifics of ECS signaling, researchers believe this essential regulatory system is responsible for the processes of homeostasis, the internal balance your body must maintain for survival. When internal or external influences threaten to disrupt equilibrium, your ECS messengers relay urgent messages to their corresponding receptors to initiate processes that restore essential balance. Performing this essential function requires the coordination of the following three main components:
The ECS Messengers Produced in Your Body
- The cannabinoids produced in your body function as the messengers of your endocannabinoid system. Your body makes two main cannabinoids, the endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol). While both of these neurotransmitters are involved in numerous processes, anandamide is predominantly involved in memory, appetite, pain perception, and reproductive processes, while 2-AG has more of an impact on immune system function and inflammation.2,3
Your ECS Receptors
- You have two types of ECS receptors in varying concentrations throughout your body, CB1, and CB2. Your brain and central nervous system contain the most CB1 receptors. Your CB2 receptors are found most abundantly throughout your immune system, organ systems, and muscles. The purpose and function of ECS receptors are influenced by their locations. For example, the CB1 receptors in your hypothalamus influence metabolism and energy levels, while the receptors in your amygdala regulate memories and emotional responses.4
The Enzymes That Break Down Cannabinoids
- The ECS messengers produced in your body are made as needed. Once their message is delivered, they’re broken down by metabolic enzymes. Anandamide is metabolized by amidohydrolase (FAAH). 2-Ag is broken down by two metabolic enzymes, FAAH and MAGL (monoacylglycerol lipase). The quick breakdown of ECS messengers by metabolic enzymes ensures they exist just long enough to do their job.
A New Theory Based on Neurotransmitter Reduction During Health Conditions
The communication between the ECS messengers and receptors is so essential to your wellbeing that many researchers believe disruptions can cause a considerable number of problems. Some theories suggest endocannabinoid system deficiency causes more serious health concerns.5
The theory of clinical endocannabinoid system deficiency was first proposed in 2001 by Dr. Ethan Russo. Dr. Russo, a neurologist, first proposed his theory based on observations that several conditions are associated with a reduction of specific neurotransmitters. Supported by his knowledge of ECS function, Dr. Russo confirmed that people diagnosed with several difficult health conditions had lower endocannabinoid levels than healthy controls.6
According to Dr. Russo’s theory, endocannabinoid system deficiency can occur if the demand for ECS messengers exceeds the supply, the body doesn’t produce enough ECS receptors, or metabolic enzymes are released before the endocannabinoids and receptors bind.
Recognizing the Signs of Endocannabinoid System Deficiency
In a perfect world, your body would create just the right amount of ECS messengers, you would always have plenty of ECS receptors on stand by, and metabolic enzymes would arrive on cue. But life gets messy. Numerous internal and external influences can strain the system and cause ECS deficiency.
Since ECS signaling regulates so many vital processes, variances in ECS function can have a considerable impact on your overall health and wellbeing, even when that impact would not typically sound any alarms. Consider some of the many signs that could indicate a regulatory system not working as efficiently as it could:
Changes in Sleep Patterns
- The short-term effects of sleep deprivation can spoil your mood, drain your energy, cloud your judgment, and impair immune system function. Once your sleep cycles are disrupted, it’s not easy to get back on track. Since sleep, sleep cycles, and circadian rhythms are regulated by ECS function; sleep disturbances might suggest a disruption in ECS signaling. Current research shows that sleeplessness can be caused by reduced CB1 activity or decreased anandamide production.7
An Unhealthy Diet
- If you’re not paying attention to your diet, your ECS may not be as responsive as it could, particularly if your diet is high in refined sugar, trans fats, processed grains, or fried foods. These dietary choices are all shown to contribute to inflammation. Since inflammatory responses are regulated by ECS signaling, the increase in inflammation could increase the demand for ECS messengers. Research also shows a direct correlation between omega-3 fatty acids and the production of anandamide, 2-AG, and ECS receptors. These observations seem to suggest that an unhealthy diet could increase your risk of developing clinical endocannabinoid system deficiency. 8
- Your moods, emotions, and stress responses are also regulated by ECS signaling. When stress levels increase, the hormones triggered by your autonomic nervous system can have a considerable impact on ECS function. Under stress, your body produces less anandamide and more 2-AG. That means prolonged stress could be impacting other processes throughout your body by releasing either too much or not enough of either endocannabinoid to accommodate their function. A decrease in anandamide production has also been directly linked to mild anxiety.9
A Sedentary Lifestyle
- While there are many sound reasons to engage in regular physical activity, even the most health-conscious people develop less than ideal habits from time to time. But it’s important to know that regular exercise plays a vital role in ECS function. Current research shows that moderate physical activity increases the production of anandamide. As one of the two main endocannabinoids, anandamide influences a wide range of processes throughout your body. If you’ve been less active than you might care to admit, consider the possibility that your endocannabinoid system may not be functioning at optimal levels.10
Family Health History
- The communication between the messengers and receptors of your endocannabinoid system plays an important role in your overall health and wellbeing. While researchers don’t currently believe endocannabinoid system deficiency is genetic, some of the health concerns researchers have linked to clinical endocannabinoid deficiency can run in families. A system not running efficiently can cause a significant number of seemingly unrelated signs because of the wide range of processes regulated by ECS signaling.
Supporting ECS Function with Plant-Based Cannabinoids
Once you know how your ECS functions, it’s much easier to understand the many potential benefits of supporting your endocannabinoid system with hemp-derived CBD products. CBD and the many other potentially beneficial cannabinoids in industrial hemp mimic the effects of the cannabinoids made in your body to relay urgent messages to the receptors of your endocannabinoid system. That’s an impressive function. When internal or external factors create a demand for ECS messengers that exceeds the supply, the CBD in your hemp-derived products could help restore essential balance.
To learn more about the many potential benefits of supporting ECS function with CBD, download The Ultimate CBD User Guide at CBDistillery™. Once you’ve determined how you might benefit from high-quality, non-intoxicating CBD products, consider our assortment of fairly priced CBD capsules, topicals, gummies, and CBD oils. All CBDistillery™ CBD, CBG, and CBN products are certified by the US Hemp Authority™, and third-party tested to ensure the purity and potency of every product we offer.
- British Journal of Pharmacology. R Pertwee. (2006 January 14) Cannabinoid Pharmacology: The First 66 Years.
- World of Molecules. (2016) Anandamide Molecule – The Bliss Molecule.
- World of Molecules (2016) 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) Molecule.
- Biological Psychiatry. H Lu, K Mackie. (2016 April 01) An Introduction to the Endogenous Cannabinoid System.
- Fundacion Canna. R Peyraube. (2020) Failure in the Endocannabinoid System: Theory or Reality.
- Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. E Russo. ( 2016 June 01)Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes.
- Oxford Academic. E. Murillo-Rodriguez et al. (2003 December) Anandamide Enhances Extracellular Levels of Adenosine and Induces Sleep: An In Vivi Microdialysis Study.
- Intech Open. C Bosch-Bouju, S Laye. (2015 September 29) Dietary Omega-6/Omega-3 and Endocannabinoids: Implications for Brain Health and Diseases.
- Nature. Com. R Bluett et al. (2014 July 08) Central Anandamide Deficiency Predicts Stress-Induced Anxiety: Behavioral Reversal Through Endocannabinoid Augmentation.
- Acta Pharmacologica Sinica. M Scherma et al. (2018 July 26) Brain Activity of Anandamide: A Rewarding Bliss?