The human body is a complex system that requires almost constant upkeep and maintenance. It’s the reason that one simple complication can equal disaster if it’s not dealt with swiftly and effectively. One of the reasons the body is able to maintain a strong state of homeostasis is because of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and its ability to detect issues and move quickly to correct them.
However, the ECS itself is susceptible to damage if it’s not maintained properly, which would start a domino effect of other systems also failing to maintain proper stability without the assistance of the endocannabinoid system. One of the most common issues with the ECS is pollutants making their way in. In this article we’ll explain what that really means and how it can be avoided.
The Endocannabinoid System
To begin with it’s important to have an overview of the ECS. As mentioned, the endocannabinoid system maintains homeostasis within the body. If one of the systems it controls experiences some sort of disruption, the ECS will step in and correct the imbalance to bring back equilibrium to the affected system. Human bodies are complex and changes can happen at any time, so conditions need to be kept stable in order for cells to maintain optimal performance.
Within the ECS are endocannabinoids, which are small molecules that bind to receptors and active them. These molecules are very similar to the cannabinoid compounds produced by cannabis plants. The two major endocannabinoids found in the ECS are anandamide and 2-AG. These compounds are made up of molecules within cell membranes and the body is able to produce them on demand.
Endocannabinoid receptors are found on the surface of cells and are used to monitor conditions outside the cell and transmit any information about changes happening within the environment surrounding it. If a large enough change is reported, the ECS will receive the message communicated by the receptors and initiate the proper response to balance the system. Endocannabinoids are able to bind to either of the two main receptors, but the result will depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.
The ECS also contains special enzymes known as metabolic enzymes. These are used to destroy endocannabinoids within the ECS systems once they have successfully achieved homeostasis within the body. This helps ensure no overcorrection will be able to occur after the need for the endocannabinoid has ended.
While research is still ongoing, studies have so far found the endocannabinoid system to be linked to processes like appetite, metabolism, pain, the immune system, memory, sleep, reproductive function, nerve function and mood and anxiety .
The Endocrine System
The human endocrine system consists of a series of glands that produce hormones and also secrete them. These hormones are used by the body for a wide variety of necessary functions, including respiration, metabolism, reproduction, movement, and growth. The glands within the endocrine system produce hormones which are then sent into the bloodstream by tissues within the body. These hormones send specific signals to the tissue, telling them what they should be doing. If the glands produce incorrect hormones or an incorrect amount, diseases can develop leading to health complications down the road. The endocrine system is extremely important to healthy living and any disruption within it can be catastrophic to the rest of the systems within the body, including the ECS.
Researchers have begun exploring the link between common pollutants and how they cause a disruption in the endocrine system, which can then lead to a dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system. These disruptors are a large class of chemicals that are defined by how they act in the human body. Endocrine disrupting chemicals have the ability to mimic, block, or interfere with important naturally occurring hormones like estrogen and androgen. The disruption can throw the entire body off balance and trigger a multitude of unfortunate health effects, some of those not appearing for years after exposure.
It’s a difficult process understanding how and why these chemicals have such a dangerous impact on our health and researchers are still studying the effects of them on diseases like cancer and diabetes. They are also studying the link between the endocrine system and the endocannabinoid system. The link between the two systems is clear, with both working to maintain a level of homeostasis within the body and both routinely working alongside other major systems on the body. Both of these systems are also very sensitive to added chemicals, such as the case with the well documented effects of cannabinoids on the endocannabinoid system.
There are unfortunately a number of toxins that humans come in contact with on a daily basis that have the potential to act as endocrine disruptors, but some of the most common and most destructive include:
Also known as bisphenol A., BPA is a well-known chemical that has been used to manufacture industrial plastic for decades. It’s most often found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, such as food and water storage containers.
BPA can seep into food or beverages that are held within storage containers, especially if they are exposed to heat.
Diisononyl Phthalate belongs to the phthalate family of plastics, which are commonly added to plastics to make them flexible. DiNP is the most frequently used of the family and is common in many plastic products. It can also be found in items that contain vinyl, wire insulation, gloves, tubing, hoses, and even shoes. It has also been used in inks and pigments, adhesives, sealants, and paints.
DiNP can be gradually released from these products where it makes its way into indoor environments like homes, schools, and offices. It will often settle on floors and other surfaces, while also accumulating in dust and in the air.
Parabens are most commonly found in cosmetics where they are used as preservatives. The most common types are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben which act to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold in cosmetic products.
Because of the nature of the products they are contained within, exposure to parabens generally comes from skin contact. Since parabens are commonly found in products like makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, and shaving products, it’s common for contact with the skin to be a daily occurrence.
A recent study on fish tested the theory that exposure to toxins would cause a disruption to not only the endocrine system, but also the endocannabinoid system. In the experiment, the fish were subjected to the known endocrine disruptors of BPA and DiNP. After 21 days the researchers concluded that the levels of the ECS were altered, specifically in the brain, liver, and gonads as a result of these endocrine disruptors .
Another study examined how common pesticides could inhibit the ability of the endocannabinoid system and found that chlorpyrifos and other organophosphate pesticides were in fact able to inhibit the work of the CB1 receptor, an important part of the endocannabinoid system and the receptor that interacts with cannabinoids from cannabis the most often .
Another later study noted that organophosphorus chemicals actually blocked the endocannabinoid enzymes MAGL and FAAH, which leads to elevated levels of endocannabinoids in the brain and ultimately threw the cannabinoid receptors out of balance .
Maintaining a health endocannabinoid system and a healthy endocrine system are essential to a good life. By avoiding potential pollutants that could endanger both is the first step to keeping the systems in check. Human trials are only just beginning on this topic, but as scientists learn more about the endocannabinoid system and the way it is able to interact with the rest of the body, studies such as these will become more important to understanding the effects of dangerous chemicals and the potential for therapeutic treatments to help assist these systems in maintaining a healthy function.