WHAT IS THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

You might have heard of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in reference to CBD, or it could be a new term to you. Whether you are you are new to the term or are looking to refresh your memory we’ve put together a fun article to get you up to speed.


To start off, although all mammals have an Endocannabinoid System (ECS), it wasn’t until 1990 when Lisa Matsuda at the Institute of Medicine, proved the existence of the ECS. They did this by cloning a CB receptor, beginning groundbreaking research by scientists around the world on this previously unknown body system. This is the start of many other researchers diving in and broadening our understanding. In 1992 at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem by Dr. Lumir Hanus and Dr. William Devane first discovered anandamide, one of the bodies naturally produced endocannabinoid. 

From here, scientists have found that endocannabinoids and their receptors exist throughout the entire body from the brain down to our feet. But still, what is the Endocannabinoid system and what does it do.

There are three main components of the ECS that each play a vital role.

  • Endocannabinoids 
  • Enzymes
  • Receptors

Endocannabinoids are to keys as receptors are to locks and enzymes act to clean up and recycle ECS’ after the body uses them.

Cannabinoids, like CBD, in this system play the same role as keys to the locks (receptors). There is however a difference between CBD keys. Cannabinoids although a key in the system, do not fit perfectly and work best in concert with other cannabinoids, and this is what we refer to as the entourage effect. When the key fits into the lock a reaction happens in the body and causes an effect to occur. This all depends on the lock and exactly where it is located within the body. 

Enzymes are defined as any substance in the body that either causes a reaction to occur or accelerates one that is already in the process of happening. The primary function of enzymes are to recycle endocannabinoids after the body has used them. Enzymes are critical to ensuring that only the amounts of ECS that the body needs are available for use and regulates their timely removal to prevent an overload. This is essential for homeostasis.

Receptors are like signal towers receiving messages transmitted by cannabinoids. CB1 and CB2 receptors process this information and begin to regulate processes like:

  • Appetite
  • Memory
  • Pain Reduction

CB2 Receptors are plentiful on the skin and this makes topicals a great way to introduce cannabinoids to the body if you are looking for an alternative to ingesting product. Many topicals emphasize anti inflammatory properties and this is because the CB2 receptor primary function is to reduce inflammation. 

In the nervous system the endocannabinoid system works to regulate production of Glutamate and GABA, neurotransmitters responsible for exciting or calming your nervous system. 

GABA is a decelerator in the nervous system, calming and relaxing the mind. Whereas Glutamate is the excelerator exciting the body and make you more alert. Both of these have drawbacks if over or underproduced however. 

Too much GABA is like walking around with a weight tied to you slowing you down making you sluggish unable to think as clearly as you should. Too little and you’ll have trouble relaxing and calming down, this will lead you to having a sense of nervousness and being anxious.

Too much Glutamate and you’ll feel like your speeding and rushed, even out of control. Glutamate and GABA are complementary in that when you have too little of one you’ll have too much of the other. The ideal state is a balanced mixture of both, this is where the endocannabinoid system steps in and plays its part. 

The Endocannabinoid System is designed to begin its process when the body is out of homeostasis and assists in bringing the body back to balance. The body can get out of balance for many normal reasons which could be, stress, anxiety, malnutrition, cancers, exhaustion, and many more. It’s at this point that the ECS starts working in conjunction with other body systems to bring our body back from an imbalanced state and into homeostasis.

When the body is out of homeostasis the pre synaptic cell sends a signal to the postsynaptic cell. Here is when the cannabinoid is created and sent to the presynaptic neuron. Now the desired ECS leaves the postsynaptic cell and travels towards the CB1 or CB2 receptors on the presynaptic cell. Here it is absorbed into the cell and body sending signals through the body assisting in homeostasis. 

Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids which are Anandamide and 2-AG (2-Arachidonoylglycerol). These are two of the most studied and prominent ECS’, and they are produced by the body and come from lipid precursors.

When we consume Cannabinoids we are introducing a new key to the lock and key analogy. Individual cannabinoids, although a key in the system, do not fit as perfectly as the bodies naturally producing anandamide or 2-AG into the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Cannabinoids work best when multiples are combined and consumed in concert with each other. This in Full Spectrum oil is commonly referred to as the “Entourage Effect” and simply put, it’s when the cannabinoids work synergistically with each other. This complementary work is how you get effects like relaxed and happy out of full spectrum oils and broad spectrum. 

Because CB receptors are found throughout the body this is the reason why there are so many different CBD products that are able to target specific ailments, or just to help keep you happy and healthy. New research is being done everyday on cannabinoids and they are discovering more and more treatments. 

Works Cited

Collins, Stephen M., and Premsyl Bercik. “Intestinal Bacteria Influence Brain Activity in Healthy Humans.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 7 May 2013, www.nature.com/articles/nrgastro.2013.76.

DiPatrizio, Nicholas V. “Endocannabinoids in the Gut.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Feb. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940133/#s002title.

Lewerenz, Jan, and Pamela Maher. “Chronic Glutamate Toxicity in Neurodegenerative Diseases-What Is the Evidence?” Frontiers in Neuroscience, Frontiers Media S.A., 16 Dec. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4679930/.

Mayer, Emeran A., et al. “Gut Microbes and the Brain: Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience.” Journal of Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 12 Nov. 2014, www.jneurosci.org/content/34/46/15490.short.

Pacher, Pál, et al. “Blood Pressure Regulation by Endocannabinoids and Their Receptors.” Neuropharmacology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2225528.

Pandey, Rupal, et al. “Endocannabinoids and Immune Regulation.” Pharmacological Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3044336/.Zou, Shenglong, and Ujendra Kumar. “Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 13 Mar. 2018, www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/19/3/833/htm.

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