Endocannabinoid system: How does it work?

There are several reasons why we can feel the certain effects that a cannabis strain can have and differentiate them! The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a biological system that was found almost 40 years ago. Components of the ECS are endocannabinoids, receptors and enzymes. There is some research that points out that the ECS might help regulate a variety of functions like sleep, mood, memory, appetite and pain sensation.

The endocannabinoid system is functioning insde everybody even if they never consumed cannabis.

Endocannabinoids are small molecules that our bodies produce. They are similar to cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. One of the endocannabinoids is anandamide which acts on CB-1 and CB-2 receptors, modulating the central or peripherial nervous system.

Endocannabinoid receptors

You can find cannabinoid receptors throughout your body, on the surface of cells. Endocannabinoids bind to them and transmit information about changing conditions to the inside of the cell.

There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system
  • CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells

Metabolic enzymes

The enzymes ensure that after using endocannabinoids they are cleaned out. Their functions is to make sure that the endocannabioids are used wherever is needed, but no longer than necessary. This process distinguishes endocannabinoids from many other molecular signals in the body, such as hormones or classical neurotransmitters, which can persist for many seconds or minutes, or get packaged and stored for later use.


All the potential functions of the endocannabinoid system are still to be a subject for studies. There are, however, some scientific articles that link the ECS to the following processes:

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

These functions all contribute to homeostasis, which refers to stability of your internal environment. For example, if an outside force, such as lack of sleep or pain, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS helps your body return to its ideal state.

How does the ECS interact with THC and CBD?

Tetrahydrocannabinol is one of the most known cannabinoids, and the one that is responsible for the psychoactive effect. After it is in the body it binds, like endocannabinoids, to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Because it can bind to both, this cannabinoid can induce a wide range of effects. Some beneficial and some not so beneficial.

While THC binds to the same receptor as some cannabinoids, the effects differ because the way of binding differs but also the fact that the enzymes do not effect THC.

The cannabinoids that come from cannabis also interact with many other receptors in the brain, a good example being CBD. Because of binding to more receptors, cannabinoids induce different effects than endocannabinoids, even if they activate the same cannabinoid receptors.

CBD interacts with CB1 and CB2 in a different way, and it may be that it binds to a receptor that is not found yet. CBD also affects overall levels of endocannabinoids in the brain. It inhibits enzymes which break down endocannabinoids, increasing the anandamide levels. The inhibation of those enzymes are a useful strategy for treating anxiety, which might be a reason why CBD can help with anxiety and depression.

Finding more about the ECS could help in treating many conditions, and develop a better understanding of how it works!

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