What is the Endocannabinoid System?

From delightful euphoria to therapeutic sedation, cannabis strains are known to produce a wide range of physical and cerebral effects.

How is cannabis able to produce its many effects? Primarily through its interactions with the endocannabinoid system.

Defining the Endocannabinoid System

studying the endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a neuromodulatory network that was discovered in the 1990s by researchers studying the effects of THC. Because it was discovered while studying cannabis, it was named after the plant.

While the ECS is closely linked to cannabis and cannabinoids, this system is actively working in your body—even if you don’t consume cannabis. Plus, the ECS is not just limited to human physiology. It can also be found in all vertebrate species.

The ECS is made up of three parts: protein cell receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes.

The cell receptors that make up the ECS interact with cannabinoids and endocannabinoids. Cannabinoids can bind directly to these receptors or can affect them indirectly. The two primary kinds of receptors in the ECS are CB1 receptors, which are primarily found in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors which are primarily found in the peripheral nervous system.

Endocannabinoids are endogenous cannabinoids that are naturally produced by the human body for the purpose of bioregulation. Endocannabinoids work on the same cell receptors as cannabinoids but have a short half-life before being broken down. The two best-known endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA) and 2–arachidonoylglycerol (2–AG).

Lastly, enzymes are needed in order to break down endocannabinoids after they have done their job. There are two enzymes that are primarily responsible for this: monoacylglycerol acid lipase (typically breaks down 2–AG), and fatty acid amide hydrolase (typically breaks down AEA).

What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?

The Endocannabinoid System

The ECS works to keep the body in homeostasis (balance). This means that it works to maintain a stable environment inside your body, despite fluctuations in the external environment and the constant influence of external factors.

It is believed that the endocannabinoid system does this by regulating a number of functions such as mood, sleep, appetite, memory, pain, immune function, digestion, inflammation, motor control, body temperature, liver function, cardiovascular system function, and more.

For example, it is believed that autophagy, a cellular recycling program, is mediated by the ECS. Autophagy is a process where cells keep themselves alive by breaking themselves down and self-digesting (recycling) faulty or damaged parts of themselves.

ECS receptors can also be found on the skin, in the nervous system, and at injury sites. It’s clear that the ECS is crucial to wellness and to a healthy functioning body.

How the Endocannabinoid System Interacts With Cannabis

endocannabinoid system interactions

When you consume cannabis, the cannabinoids it contains interact with cell receptors in the ECS similarly to how endocannabinoids would. It is believed that the interactions between cannabinoids like THC and cell receptors in the ECS are responsible for the effects we experience when we consume cannabis.

When THC is consumed, it binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. This may be why THC is able to exert such a wide range of different effects on both the mind and the body.

By comparison, CBD functions much differently. Instead of binding directly to these receptors as THC does, it is thought that CBD can influence cell receptors indirectly. Additionally, CBD is also believed to prevent the breakdown of endocannabinoids, allowing them to work for longer. This may explain why CBD seems to produce therapeutic effects but no mind-altering effects.

Everybody is different, and the way you react to THC and CBD may differ too. If you are new to cannabis, we recommend you start slowly and with a low dose. You can find a variety of products to try on our menus. Pick your location to get started!