The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a set of 6 different molecules. Though there are many other molecules that are being considered as being part of the ECS, currently it is described as having 2 receptor molecules, CB1 and CB2 (aka CB1RCB2R); 2 endocannabinoid molecules, AEA and 2-AG and 2 enzymes, FAAH and MAGL that break down, AEA and 2-AG respectively. There are several other enzymes that make the endocannabinoids, but not a clear consensus which belong to the ECS. The ECS is a set of millions, perhaps even trillions of these molecules that are found in cells widely distributed throughout the body. These ECS molecules play a functional role in an extensive variety of cell types: skin cells, cells that make cartilage, kidney cells,
bone cells, nerve cells, heart cells and on and on. The ECS molecules maintain balance and literally regulate or modulate most of the physiological processes that occur in our bodies. Although it is called the Endocannabinoid System, it is very different from any other system in our body. For one thing, the ECS is made up of only molecules, whereas all other body systems are comprised of organs, which are exceedingly more complex.
A quick look at the organization of the body will be helpful to your understanding of the vast nature of
the ECS and to appreciate the significance of these differences. The lowest level of organization in the human body hierarchy is the atom, atoms combine to form molecules. A simple example of a molecule is H2O (2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom) whereas many of the molecules in the human body are considerably more complex containing thousands or millions of atoms such as the DNA molecule shown below. Molecules are the 2nd level of organization in the body, millions and in some cases a trillion or more molecules combine to form cells. Cells are the smallest living component of our body and we have approximately 200 different types of cells. Cells unite to form tissues, there are only 4 different types of tissues in our body, each of these 4 tissue types have many subtypes which combine to form organs. There are 78 organs in the body that have a multitude of sizes, shapes and functions. The teeth, stomach and liver are among the organs of the digestive system; each has
a different function that plays a critical role in successful digestion. Organs form organ systems and each of the 12 different systems of the body perform important functions in the body that other systems cannot. For example, the cardiovascular system moves blood throughout our body, bringing oxygen and nutrients to our cells and removing carbon dioxide and other wastes from our cells, whereas the female and male reproductive systems act together to produce the eggs and sperm to create a new human and the female reproductive system houses and nurtures the new human as it develops. Collectively the organ systems comprise the human organism.
When you do a Google search for a list of the systems in the human body, you’ll get anywhere from 10-12 systems, but a list that includes the ECS is very hard to find. Perhaps this is because by
definition in the hierarchy of organization of the human organism, a body system is made up of organs and the ECS has no organs or tissues! There isn’t even such a thing as an ECS cell, yet ECS components are found in almost every type of cell in the body! Another variance is the omnipresence of ECS components playing a functional role in every other system of the body. Because of this, when something is awry with the ECS components somewhere the body, diseases occur. So, for example, in diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and rheumatic diseases excessive amounts of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors are seen and while deficiencies of endocannabinoids are seen in irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, fibromyalgia and PTSD.
The fact is, there are many doctors, scientists and others who, after studying the ECS, believe it is the most important system in the body. Unfortunately, there are too many health care practitioners who have never even heard of it, which is why Cannabis Education Solutions exists. We exist to spread the word to healthcare professionals and the general public about this incredibly important system that is disrupted in so many diseases. The existence of the ECS is the reason that for more than 5000 years, cannabis has been successfully used as medicine to heal people with vastly different diseases. This is because the phytocannabinoids in cannabis bind to CB1 and CB2 and somehow are able to correct the imbalances. While a wealth of knowledge has accumulated since THC was isolated more than 50 years ago, the cannabis plant contains over 500 phytochemicals, as of latest count 113 of these have been characterized as cannabinoids. Additionally, it is known that the abundant terpenes in cannabis alter the binding activities of phytocannabinoids making it difficult to follow exactly what is happening. Further complicating the picture, CB1 and CB2 are G-protein coupled receptors which means they can have at least 3 different responses to a cannabinoid binding depending on the specific structure of that cannabinoid. The bottom line is that the complexity of the ECS is incomprehensible. But what’s important in terms of raising awareness is that there is abundant evidence showing that however it happens, it helps in many, many patients with deadly, painful diseases.
What about the millions of people suffering from painful diseases that are killing them? Patients without access to the medicine that can change their lives. These diseases constitute 7 of the top 10 causes of death according to a 2016 CDC study: heart disease (99), cancer (350), chronic respiratory disease (32), stroke (91), Alzheimer’s (63), Diabetes (240), suicide (24). The number in parentheses after each of these causes of death represents the number of scholarly paper’s you’ll find on a PubMed search of the ECS and each of the conditions. Though there may be some overlap, this is a collective 899 referenced papers. It’s beyond astounding when you begin reading them, details down to what’s happening at the molecular level. In the abstract of one of the articles found in the ECS and heart disease search, the authors wrote: “recent studies have shed light on a protective role of CB2 in cardiovascular disease” and this review cites 221 references! In the search for ECS and suicide, you’ll find chapter 5 of a medical textbook entitled “Frontiers in Neuroscience” is: “Role of the Endocannabinoid System in the Neurobiology of Suicide,” which cites 151 references. With each search of the ECS’s role in these 7 leading causes of death and concomitant suffering endured for the many years before death, you’ll see how enormous its role is to human health. The search results for diseases beyond these 7 deadly conditions is immense.
The ECS’s plethora of functions represent an incalculable physiological vastness, in terms of the magnitude of its impact on wellbeing. Everyone needs to know of it, and of its critical role in our health.