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The endocannabinoid system: what it is and how it works

Geschrieben von Enecta Editorial Staff am 18.04.2019

The endocannabinoid system: what it is and how it works

How does CBD act? The answer is in our endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a biological system present in the human body and made up by endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids are small signalling molecules which derive from a poly-saturated fatty acid: arachidonic acid. Endocannabinoids activate the type 1 cannabinoid receptor (denominated CB1) and the type 2 receptor (CB2).

The first type is present in the brain and in some peripherical tissues, while the second can be found prevalently in the cells of the immune system. The whole of endocannabinoids of an individual is identified as the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system acts on the regulation of a great variety of processes, both of the physical and the cognitive kind, like appetite, pain sensation and mood.

We consider cannabinoids as “messengers” acting on our body. There are types of them: those originating from inside our organism (endocannabinoids like 2-arachidonoylglycerol, (2-AG) and anandamide) and those coming from the outside (exocannabinoids), which can be found in the cannabis plant. Two of the best-known exocannabinoids are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

How CBD acts on the endocannabinoids system

Cannabidiol (CBD) acts indirectly on the receptors of the endocannabinoid system. Cannabidiol (CBD), more specifically, does not act on a particular pathology: it is a "regulating" substance of our endocannabinoid system. Cannabidiol (CBD) modulates already existing mechanisms in our organism.

In substance, the moment in which imbalance or decompensation in the endocannabinoid system occur, the modulation provided for by cannabidiol (CBD) – which act, for example, on the immune system or indirectly on an inflammatory process – tends to recover the original balance. Cannabidiol (CBD) entails an indirect modulation of alterations in the human endocannabinoid system, caused by pathologies or traumas.  

Why studying the endocannabinoid system?

The identification of cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous lipid bonds has paved the way for a research branch aimed at the exploration of the endocannabinoid system and its regulatory functions both in the body of a healthy individual and in the case of an individual affected by a pathology.

In the last decade, the endocannabinoid system has been involved in an increasing number of physiological functions, in the central and peripheral nervous systems as well as in peripheral organs.

Even more important is that the modulation of the activity of the endocannabinoid system has showed to be promising in a wide range of disorders and pathological conditions, like mood disorders, anxiety, pathologies like Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and psoriasis.

The growing number of preclinical studies with compounds modulating the endocannabinoid system will probably lead to new therapeutic approaches for a number of disorders in which the current treatments do not fully respond to the requirements of patients.