The Endocannabinoid System and CBD For Dummies

WRITTEN by Caleb

 | Last revised

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex biological, cell-signalling system that’s responsible for keeping the body in a state of homeostasis.

Italian scientist Vincenzo DiMarzo described the primary function of the ECS is to help human’s “eat, sleep, relax, protect, and forget.”

The effects of this neuromodulatory system extends across a number of bodily functions, ensuring both physical and mental health are in optimal condition.

You could consider it the body’s master regulator.

However, issues can arise when the ECS is not working correctly and a low-functioning ECS has been indicated in many chronic disorders and diseases.

It’s a complex topic, so consider this article your “endocannabinoid system for dummies” reference guide.

So what about the endocannabinoid system and CBD? What does the layperson need to know about the endocannabinoid system?

The function of the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (or ECS for short) regulates a range of brain and bodily functions[1], including (but not limited to):

  • sleep
  • appetite, digestion, and metabolism
  • memory and learning
  • pain and inflammation
  • reproduction and fertility
  • mood and stress
  • motor control
  • muscle formation and bone growth
  • cardiovascular health
  • skin and nerve function

To give you a mental image of this mysterious system, consider the ECS as the lock, and endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids as the key. Both are needed to unlock optimal health.

The ECS consists of endocannabinoids, receptors and metabolic enzymes.

Endocannabinoids, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules your body produces naturally.

Researchers have identified two essential endocannabinoids: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG).

These are similar to the phytocannabinoids (meaning plant cannabinoids) that cannabis produces. CBD’s effects are similar to how researchers believe 2-AG functions.[2]

AEA is responsible for the “runner’s high” and shares a lot of characteristics with THC, the famous phytocannabinoid known for making people feel “high” or “stoned.”[3][4]

Whether it’s a natural cannabinoid the body produces or a plant-based one. How do the brain and body process all this and what are the effects?

Endocannabinoid Receptors: What are they?

Endocannabinoid receptors exist in our brains and throughout our bodies.

Endocannabinoids (and some phytocannabinoids) bind to our endocannabinoid receptors.[5]

There are two primary receptors:

  • CB1 receptors found in the central nervous system
  • CB2 receptors found in the peripheral nervous system

AEA and 2-AG will bind to either one of these receptors. CB1 is associated with pain due to the receptors on the spinal nerve.

Others bind to CB2 receptors, which are related to our immune system. If you are suffering from inflammation, your body will bind endocannabinoids to your CB2 receptor for relief.

But sometimes endogenous cannabinoids aren’t enough. Sometimes your receptors need a boost. Something external.

But why? Why aren’t endocannabinoids enough?

Do We Need Phytocannabinoids to be Healthy?

Your body wants to be in a state of homeostasis.[6] This means your internal system is stable and functioning, and this is the ECS’s main role.

Think of your body like a car. You want to ensure the gas tank is full, you’ve changed the oil, and everything is running smoothly.

And just as a broken carburettor will require repairs, if you get sick or injured, you’ll need more than what your body’s natural defences can provide.

When you’re sick, your body’s endocannabinoid system tries to return to a state of balance. But that carby isn’t going to fix itself.

That’s where phytocannabinoids come in.

Consider THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol. As mentioned, this phytocannabinoid makes users feel “high.”

THC binds directly to your ECS receptors just like endogenous cannabinoids. THC is famous for reducing pain and stimulating appetite.

But what about the endocannabinoid system and CBD?

A doctor in a white coat offering a cannabis leaf, the CBD molecular structure next to him

Endocannabinoid System and CBD: How does it work?

CBD doesn’t produce the “high” effects of THC. Nor does it directly bind to CB1 or CB2 endocannabinoid receptors like THC.

Researchers think CBD prevents endocannabinoids like AEA and 2-AG from breaking down.[7]

Like giving a marathon runner a shot of adrenaline so they can finish the last few kilometres.

The endocannabinoid system is a relatively new discovery. As recent as 2019, researchers discovered another four endocannabinoids when studying dolphins.[8]

So the jury is still out.

The details on why the endocannabinoid system and CBD work may be vague. But that doesn’t negate our clinical findings pointing to CBD’s efficacy.

We know CBD helps with pain, nausea, sleep, anxiety, and other symptoms associated with various conditions and disorders.

Researchers speculate CBD may reverse an endocannabinoid deficiency.[9]

This theory says low endogenous cannabinoid levels may contribute to conditions like fibromyalgia, migraines, or irritable bowel syndrome.

More research is needed, but the role of phytocannabinoids like CBD in maintaining a healthy endocannabinoid system looks promising.

Where Can I Get Some CBD?

Fortunately, most of us don’t require a full-sized book called “The Endocannabinoid System for Dummies.”

If we run into serious trouble with our endocannabinoid system, then we go to a doctor. Just like when we have serious car trouble, we go to a mechanic.

And fortunately, if you go through the TGA, you can get a prescription for CBD.

Whether you’re looking at CBD for relief or as preventive therapy (i.e. keeping your endocannabinoid system in balance), everyone could benefit from a bit of cannabidiol.

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1. N/A, "Endocannabinoid System".
Project CBD .
2. N Stella, P Schweitzer, D Piomelli, "A second endogenous cannabinoid that modulates long-term potentiation ".
3. Marcello Solinas, Gianluigi Tanda, Zuzana Justinova, at el., "The endogenous cannabinoid anandamide produces delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol-like discriminative and neurochemical effects that are enhanced by inhibition of fatty acid amide hydrolase but not by inhibition of anandamide transport ".
4. Brian D Kangas, Michael Z Leonard, Vidyanand G Shukla, at el., "Comparisons of Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and Anandamide on a Battery of Cognition-Related Behavior in Nonhuman Primates".
5. Patricia H. Reggio, "Endocannabinoid Binding to the Cannabinoid Receptors: What Is Known and What Remains Unknown".
6. George E. Billman, "Homeostasis: The Underappreciated and Far Too Often Ignored Central Organizing Principle of Physiology".
7. R B Laprairie, A M Bagher, M E M Kelly, E M Denovan-Wright , "Cannabidiol is a negative allosteric modulator of the cannabinoid CB1 receptor ".
8. Nate Seltenrich, "Dolphin Study Identifies Hitherto Unknown Endocannabinoid".
Project CBD .
9. Ethan B. Russo, "Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes".


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Disclaimer. While we strive to relay the most factual education available, this shouldn’t replace official medical or legal consultation and recommendation. This is for educational and entertainment purposes only. Happy days.

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