Endocannabinoid System Explained

Endocannabinoid System

The world has gone crazy over CBD because of its promising benefits to one’s health. In fact, you can find thousands of articles about it all over the internet.

What may be quizzical is how our body actually reacts to it. I mean, come on, do you know how this wonder plant could attack the source of your pain or depression and heal you in the process?

I didn’t think much about the endocannabinoid system since my grade school teacher did not mention it ever. So, what have we all been missing?

This article will help you to have a better understanding of the role of the endocannabinoid system or ECS in your body. You will also learn how your body reacts to CBD through the ECS.

ECS and its Role in the Body

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the endocannabinoid system or ECS is a vital system of the body involved in modulating the function of your immune, brain, and endocrine tissues.

The term per se is historic. The discovery of the membrane receptors in the 1990s birthed the word “endocannabinoid.”

In context, endon is a Greek word that means within. Cannabis is a Latin term, which means hemp. But don’t get confused there. So, if you’re going to add it up, the ECS is a body system comprised of different cannabinoids.

The system has three main parts:

  • Endocannabinoids or groups of cannabinoid receptors
  • Receptors in the nervous system and other parts of the body
  • Enzymes that help synthesize and degrade cannabinoids

Remember that our brain has different parts with different functions. So, any intervention like taking in pain medication or CBD would affect the neurotransmitters.

Once the brain picks up the message, it would then send the message to the organ involved. That’s why you feel relieved after taking in an analgesic – it’s a body reaction.

The Discovery of ECS

Marijuana was discovered thousands of years ago, but ECS scientifically recognized recently. Allyn Howlett and William Devane discovered a lot of cannabinoid receptors in a rat’s brain during one experiment in 1988.

They continued the research using synthetic THC and found out that the receptors are strategically placed all over the body. However, it took two more years before an official announcement was publicly recognized.

In 1990, Lisa Matsunada and her colleagues reported a receptor on a rat’s brain by showing its DNA sequence. They cloned the receptor afterward to activate molecules in the rat’s body.

The discovery of CB2 or the cannabinoid receptor 2 was in 1993. These receptors were a part of the nervous and immune systems and located all over the body – bones, heart, liver, kidney.

Anandamide, the First Endocannabinoid

Raphael Mechoulam, along with Devane and Dr. Lumir Hanus, discovered anandamide in 1992. Anandamide is the first natural endocannabinoid.

The same genius trio found the second major endocannabinoid in 1995. It is known as 2-AG or 2-arachidonoylglycerol, the cannabinoid that binds with CB1 and CB2 receptors.

There isn’t any solid proof as to when humans developed ECS, but it surely is inside the body since evolution. We’re just a bit late to discover it.

Third CB Receptor?

Thirteen years after the discovery of the CB2 receptor, scientists believe to discover the third cannabinoid receptor in the body. However, further research is needed to officially announce GPR55 as a part of the ECS.

Certain parts in the peripheral nervous system contain GPR55. You should not mistake it for CB1 or a CB2 receptor since it looks way different from the two.

A CBD-induced GPR55 exhibited anti-tumor effects, specifically on brain, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. Once the medical world says yes to the third CB receptor, this would be a major breakthrough, most especially to the discovery of cancer treatment.

Yes, you read it right. Researchers and scientists continue their research to confirm the third CB receptor and hopefully, treat cancer in the future.

How ECS Looks Like

Okay, so ECS is a group of receptors and enzymes strategically placed all over your body. But what does it look like?

Importance of ECS in Homeostasis

Homeostasis is the natural process of your body to keep its equilibrium or balance. It is a phenomenon in which your body adjusts to any given situation – shock, temperature change, or hormone imbalances.

Yes, I am talking about the physical and psychological balance to keep one person “normal.” To animals, it means the body adjusts to survive. Well, it somehow applies to humans, too, but that’s a soft story to tell.

Walter Cannon coined the term in his book The Wisdom of the Body published in 1930. The book explained how our body keeps its condition aligned as much as possible. Talk about the wonders of science!

This is where ECS comes in. If it feels that there is something different from the supposed balance it should maintain, your body commands the ECS to correct and monitor it.

But of course, nobody is perfect. ECS may fail you at times, most especially when you experience the following conditions:

  • Emotional Stress
  • Drug Abuse
  • Imbalanced Diet
  • Illness
  • Genetics

To restore the balance, some people exercise, detox, or try to keep a healthy lifestyle. However, some use CBD and phytocannabinoids. Now, this is where the fun part is – what happens to your ECS when you use CBD?

CB1 and CB2 Receptors

These are the receptors responsible for making your body react to CBD and THC. Cannabinoid Receptor 1 or CB1 can be found in the brain and all over the body.

On the other hand, cannabinoid receptor 2 or CB2 are mostly located in the gastrointestinal and immune systems. Some CB2 can be found in the brain, too, but not as active as CB1.

As mentioned above, these receptors were just discovered not so long ago. Their sensitivities differ depending on the agonists (like THC) and antagonists (like CBD).

Where are They Exactly Located?

You can find CB1 receptors mainly on the brain nerve cells and spinal cord. They can also be found in white blood cells, spleen, urinary tracts, and some parts of the gastrointestinal and reproductive systems.

Cannabinoids highly influence the users in remembering things, regulating pain, and controlling motor skills. This happens because an abundance of CB1 receptors can be found in the hippocampus, cerebellum, and basal ganglia.

Meanwhile, CB2 receptors can be located in the following:

  • Spleen
  • White blood cells
  • Tonsils
  • Immune cells

How Does CBD Affect the ECS?

Aside from the endocannabinoids produced naturally by the body, ECS also reacts to other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Both compounds can be found in the cannabis Sativa plant.

Effects of CBD

CBD provides positive health results to the body. It does not bind with the receptors but it indirectly activates the TRPV1 receptors to control pain, inflammation, and even temperature.

Since it does not bind to either CB1 or CB2 receptors, it does not give any psychoactive effects to the brain. Instead, CBD stimulates the ECS to alleviate pain and inflammation, and to maintain balance in the body.

Effects of THC

Consequently, THC binds with the cannabinoid receptors. With this phenomenon, THC excites the ECS and contradicts the functions of the natural endocannabinoids.

This compound is also responsible for giving a euphoric sensation to its user. Yes, that’s the kick people feel when they use products that contain doses of THC.

However, THC can also act as a pain reliever. Other than getting high, you may also use THC to cure muscle spasm.

What Happens When You Trigger the Receptors?

When CB1 receptors are activated, you may experience relief from:

  • Stress
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Inflammation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Paranoia

However, it comes with a risk. Activated CB1 receptors may affect:

  • Liver fat
  • Food intake
  • Thyroid hormones
  • Cognitive functions
  • Other neurological disorders

Subsequently, CB2 receptor activation may change the functions of different organs such as the kidney and the liver. A study also showed that activated CB2 receptors could actually help break the protein responsible for causing Alzheimer’s disease.

CBD in Action

So, just imagine what happens when CBD indirectly triggers the cannabinoid receptors. NIH itself has proven that CBD could help alleviate, control, or lessen physiological and psychological issues such as:

  • Epileptic attacks
  • Chronic Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Acne
  • Psoriasis
  • Multiple Sclerosis or MS
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS
  • Heart Disease
  • Withdrawal from addiction
  • Bacterial infections


How our body works is still a wonder. Just imagine how intelligent it is to keep itself balanced, control its behavior, and understand the new phenomenon.

May this be new to you or not, your endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in your daily functions. Using the right amount of CBD could help improve these activities and keep homeostasis.

Having a full understanding of how ECS works would help you to become aware of what to do should you encounter any problems. It helps you to become more responsible for your body. At the end of the day, it’s you who would benefit from having a healthy endocannabinoid system.

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