The endocannabinoid system (ECS) consists of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoid molecules, and metabolic enzymes. All three parts work together to maintain homeostasis and regulate physiological processes.
The cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 are the primary targets of the ECS. CB1 is involved in psychoactive, neuromodulatory, and analgesic pathways while CB2 receptors are immunomodulatory and expressed in immune-related tissues and the central nervous system.
The ECS relies on lipid-based molecules called cannabinoids to signal within the body. Endocannabinoids are produced endogenously and are released in response to environmental or physiological cues. The two major endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), produced from omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Anandamide was the first endocannabinoid to be discovered, but 2-AG is an extremely important behind-the-scenes player that is produced at higher levels and in constant supply to ensure the ECS works properly. Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids not only provide precursors for endocannabinoid synthesis, but also regulate the homeostasis of endocannabinoids.
Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids found in plants, including cannabis. Over 90 phytocannabinoids have been identified, including cannabidiol (CBD), each with distinct structures and physiological effects. Hemp contains a negligible amount of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and has been utilized for thousands of years for medicinal purposes. Hemp oil provides a full spectrum of phytocannabinoids beyond CBD and typically includes extracts from flowers, leaves, and stalks.
While the ECS is a relatively new discovery, it is just as important as other systems in the body. Cannabinoids and their receptors are found all over the body and play a role in diverse functions. These include basic homeostatic functions such as metabolism and sleep, as well as more complex functions including embryonic development, immunity, pain, and emotional memory.