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What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

What is the Endocannabinoid System

When it comes to understanding CBD and its purpose, it is important to have some knowledge of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The endocannabinoid system is a complex cell-signaling system identified by researchers exploring THC, a well-known cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis.

There is still constant research being done to completely understand the ECS, but what we do know is that it plays a role in regulating a range of functions and processes, such as:

  • sleep
  • mood
  • memory
  • appetite
  • reproduction and fertility

You have an ECS active in your body, even if you do not use cannabis of any kind. Let’s talk about the ECS and how it connects with cannabis.

How Does The Endocannabinoid System Work?

The ECS involves three core components endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes that exist throughout our bodies.


Endocannabinoids, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules made by your body whenever we need them. They’re similar to cannabinoids, but they’re produced by your body.

Experts have identified two key endocannabinoids so far:

  • anandamide (AEA)
  • 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)

These help keep internal functions running smoothly. Since your body produces them as needed, it is difficult to know what normal levels are for each.

Endocannabinoid Receptors

These receptors are found throughout your body, and endocannabinoids bind to them in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action.

There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1 receptors, mostly found in the central nervous system
  • CB2 receptors, mostly found in the immune system, organs, and tissues

Endocannabinoids can bind to either of these receptors. The effects that result depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.

One example, endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain.


Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve fulfilled their usage.

There are two main enzymes responsible for this:

  • fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA
  • monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG

What is the ECS’ role in the body?

The ECS is complicated, and experts haven’t concluded all of the possible functions or exactly how it works.

Although, credible research has linked the ECS to the following processes:

  • chronic pain
  • inflammation and other immune system responses
  • sleep
  • mood
  • stress
  • skin and nerve function
  • appetite and digestion
  • metabolism
  • learning and memory
  • motor control
  • muscle formation
  • bone remodeling
  • liver function
  • reproductive system function

These functions all contribute to homeostasis, which refers to the conditions and stability of your internal environment.

For example, if an outside force, such as an overly stressful situation, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS kicks in to help your body deal with the situation and return to its ideal state.

Today, experts believe that maintaining homeostasis if the primary role of the ECS, and It is thought that having a deficiency of endocannabinoids could cause a large range of complications in the body.

How does CBD interact with the ECS?

One major cannabinoid found in cannabis is cannabidiol (CBD), but unlike THC, CBD doesn’t make you ‘high’ and there have been little to no known negative effects.

Experts aren’t completely sure how CBD interacts with the ECS, but they do know that it doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors the way THC does. This is why THC can cause psychoactive, intoxicating effects and produce a ‘high’ and CBD does not.

Instead, many experts believe it works by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down, and this allows them to have more of an effect on your body. Others believe that CBD binds to a receptor that hasn’t been discovered yet.

The details of how it exactly works may still be being examined, research suggests that CBD can help with pain, stress, and other processes listed previously.

Final thoughts on the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system is a very important system in the human body. It is not only crucial to our survival, but it is also fundamental in understanding what impact taking CBD could have on our bodies. While there is still a lot we don’t know about the ECS, as experts develop a better understanding of the ECS, it could eventually hold the key to treating several conditions.

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