Endocannabinoid System: Stress Modulation


The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is probably one of the most important physiological systems in the body, yet most people, including medical professionals have no awareness of its existence. It is estimated that the ECS first appeared in primitive animals more than 600 million years ago, yet it took until 1988 for researchers at the Department of Pharmacology in St. Louis University Medical School to discover that the mammalian brain has receptor sites that react to cannabis compounds such as THC and CBD. 

 

Since the ECS’s discovery, researchers have found that the system plays an incredibly important role in human health. The two most studied Cannabinoid receptors, called CB1 and CB2 are found throughout the body; in the nervous system, organs, immune cells, and the brain. The primary responsibility of the ECS is to create a harmonious state in the body called homeostasis, or a state of equilibrium where everything functions just right.

 

One of the ways in which the ECS works within our body is by regulating our reaction to stress. Stress is broadly defined as the body’s response to any change that requires a physical adjustment, whether that comes from our mind, our body, or our external environment. 

 

The ECS does more than simply help with our response to stress, it also plays an important role in the production of cortisol, aka the stress hormone, which helps the person respond to the stress-causing situation itself. 

 

Today, there are countless stressors in our lives that have the ECS working overtime. Our modern world is full of challenges that would be familiar to our parents and grandparents, such as difficult relationships and financial worries. But now there are also challenges that have only arisen in the past couple of decades, like all-day interfaces with technology, an especially fraught political environment, and most recently, the profoundly unfamiliar crisis posed by the COVID19 pandemic. 

 

Researchers have known for a long time that stress is bad for our overall health. Prolonged exposure to unhealthy levels of stress can deplete the ECS, leading to a weakened immune system, fatigue and insomnia, depression, weight gain, and loss of sex drive, to name but a few symptoms. 

 

When the ECS is chronically challenged by external and internal factors, the body has more difficulty readjusting to optimal homeostasis. However, plant-derived compounds like CBD may help keep the ECS balanced, which in turn could help keep the body respond appropriately to stressful stimuli, regardless of whether it comes from your bully boss or an illness in the family.

 

Thankfully, there are many ways to help optimize the ECS, including a healthy diet, regular exercise, getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, deep breathing, yoga, and meditation. We encourage you to practice these healthy routines to preserve your longevity and well-being.