The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a biological grid of connectors that appears in every major bodily structure. This complex cell-signalling system is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, which is the stability and balance of your internal environment in response to internal or external physiological changes. For example, if an outside force, such as pain from an injury or illness, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS kicks in to help your body return to its ideal operation.
For this reason, your ECS plays a significant role in the function of your whole body. This means if there is something wrong with the system, such as an endocannabinoid deficiency, it can have significant consequences. While we are still trying to completely understand the ECS, we know it plays a key role in regulating multiple bodily functions.
What are the Functions of the Endocannabinoid System?
The ECS is complex and not as well understood as other systems in the body. However, research has determined that the ECS is linked to a wide range of processes, including:
- Appetite, metabolism and digestion
- Pain response
- Inflammation and other immune system responses
- Learning and memory
- Motor control
- Cardiovascular system function
- Muscle formation
- Bone remodeling and growth
- Liver function
- Reproductive system function
- Skin and nerve function
All of these functions contribute to homeostasis. Research suggests that when the ECS doesn’t function correctly, it can contribute to experiences of pain, nausea and various other symptoms associated with multiple conditions.
How the Endocannabinoid System Works
The ECS consists of cannabinoid receptors, endogenous cannabinoids and enzymes that allow the whole system to function properly. The two types of receptors are called cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), which connects to our central nervous system (our brain and spinal cord), and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2), which attaches alongside our peripheral nervous system (limbs, skin and other organs).
They are the most numerous neuroreceptors found in our bodies and become stimulated through endogenous (naturally produced) cannabinoids. When these endocannabinoids bind to their corresponding receptors, a signal gets transmitted that helps to regulate key physiological functions such as those listed above.
Signs of Endocannabinoid Deficiency
Signals transmitted by endocannabinoids can change in quantity, meaning the available cannabinoid receptors in the body increase or decrease as required. If this fluctuation is uneven, it can impact how your body reaches homeostasis and potentially lead to complications. Some signs that may indicate an endocannabinoid deficiency include:
- Lack of sleep – Research shows that the ECS regulates several parts of the brain and body crucial to a good night’s rest and can influence your natural sleep pattern. An imbalance or deficiency of endocannabinoids (lack of CB1 activity) could lead to sleep deprivation.
- Stress – While stress responses are useful to quickly react to threats and danger, remaining in a heightened state of stress can lead to harmful effects including reducing levels of the anandamide endocannabinoid and increasing the level of the 2-AG endocannabinoid. Being in this state for prolonged periods may indicate ECS deficiency, as you are producing too much or not enough of either endocannabinoid.
- Poor diet – Foods with a lot of trans-fats and way too many calories promote inflammation and can cause adverse effects to the endocannabinoid system. Research suggests your gut health also plays a role in regulating the ECS.
Endocannabinoid deficiency can, fortunately, be resolved using a range of natural, healthy methods, including exercise, reducing stress, sleeping better, improving your diet and supplementation.
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