The Endocannabinoid System & CBD

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex system that regulates a range of bodily processes and functions, including those related to sleep and rest, mood, and memory.

The endocannabinoid system plays an important role and interacts with cannabinoids like CBD. It remains active even if you don’t use cannabis or its many constituent compounds, but these compounds could support the ECS.

What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

The very first endocannabinoid was isolated by Lumir Hanus and William Devane back in 1992. The researchers named the compound “anandamide” after the Sanskrit word for “bliss”.

The discovery confirmed that the human brain creates its own cannabinoids and these bind with cannabinoid receptors throughout the body and brain. Further research suggested that these cannabinoid receptors are involved in a range of processes, including discomfort and aching modulation, solid rest, appetite control, and memory processing.

Endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors are just two parts of the endocannabinoid system:


Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced by your body; the word “endo” actually comes from the Greek “ένδον” meaning “within”.

In addition to anandamide, researchers have also identified 2-arachidonoylglyerol, both of which keep the endocannabinoid system running optimally.

Your body produces these endogenous cannabinoids when they are needed.

Endocannabinoid Receptors

There are cannabinoid receptors throughout your body. Endocannabinoids bind to these receptors to inform the endocannabinoid system to take action.

Your body contains both CB1 and CB2 receptors:

  • CB1 Receptors: These cannabinoid receptors are primarily found within the central nervous system. They are one of the most abundant and active receptors in the brain.
  • CB2 Receptors: These cannabinoid receptors are located in your peripheral nervous system, including your immune tissues. They are thought to help with homeostasis in the body. 


Enzymes help to break down the endocannabinoids once they have served their purpose. 

There are two main enzymes that perform this role: fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down anandamide, and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which breaks down 2-arachidonoylglyerol.

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What Effects Does the Endocannabinoid System Have?

The effects that a cannabinoid or endocannabinoid produces will depend on which receptor it binds to, but it’s thought that the endocannabinoid system supports everything from ache and discomfort control, to solid rest, stress and more.

For instance, cannabinoid receptors in various cells may play a role in reducing aches and discomfort while cannabinoid receptors in the brain and spinal cord could help with rest.

Researchers are still studying the endocannabinoid system and how it’s influenced by cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors, but it’s believed that it could play a role in:

  • Rest
  • Discomfort management
  • Appetite control
  • Digestion
  • Aches
  • Memory and learning
  • Motor control
  • Muscle development
  • Supporting optimal cardiovascular health
  • Stress
  • Mood swings

That doesn’t mean that cannabinoids like CBD can impact all of these things. CBD is just one cannabinoid in a vast system. It’s a small piece of a big puzzle.

This holistic system is one of the reasons many consumers prefer to use full-spectrum CBD products, as these contain a variety of cannabinoids, along with terpenes and flavonoids. It’s thought that these compounds combine to produce a synergistic reaction known as the Entourage Effect.

How CBD Interacts With the Endocannabinoid System

Scientists are still learning what role CBD plays in the endogenous cannabinoid system. Some believe that CBD works by preventing other cannabinoids from breaking down, increasing the exposure. CBD may also reduce some of the adverse reactions associated with other cannabinoids.

What is certain is that CBD doesn’t interact in the same way as THC.

THC or “tetrahydrocannabinol” is the chemical responsible for the marijuana “high”. It has the most psychoactive properties of all cannabinoids and these unique effects are partly down to the fact that it binds to both CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors.

Although THC can provide many useful effects, it also produces more adverse reactions than any other compounds within the hemp and cannabis plants.

As experts learn more about the endocannabinoid system and the role played by cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors, they may find a way to reduce these adverse reactions and associated risks to improve the medical significance of THC.

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Can You Be Deficient in Endocannabinoids?

If endocannabinoids are produced by the body and play a role in a variety of processes, it is likely that deficiencies will exist. 

As with the endocannabinoid system in general, this is still an area of research and there’s a lot that we don’t know.

However, it has been suggested that a deficiency in endocannabinoids could be part of the underlying cause of many poorly understood ailments.

Only time will tell, though. More research is needed into the effects of the endocannabinoid system and whether clinical endocannabinoid deficiency can cause such problems.

Summary: Endocannabinoids, Cannabinoid Receptors, and the ECS

The endocannabinoid system or endogenous cannabinoid system is a vast and complex internal system that involves an array of cannabinoid receptors and plays a role in many bodily processes, including those related to aches, discomfort, stress and deep solid rest.

This system interacts with cannabinoids (including CBD) that you consume, and it also produces its own cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids. 

Proper understanding and manipulation of this system could lead to everything from improved drug, alcohol, and even THC addiction treatment to new solutions for aches, discomforts, solid rest, stress and relief from a number of ailments.

There is still a lot that we don’t know, though, and much of what is said about the endocannabinoid system is based on minimal research and speculation.

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