The Endocannabinoid System

Cannabis Education: The Endogenous Cannabinoid System

When a body system or process is out of balance, the result is illness or disease. Homeostasis is our bodies efforts to keep all things in balance. This is the primary function of the Endocannabinoid System: to keep our bodies in balance.

The Endogenous Cannabinoid System (ECS) is a signaling network that exists in all vertebrate and invertebrate animals, including humans. The ECS is made up of a network of receptors, the naturally occuring chemical messengers Endocannabinoids, and the enzymes that assist in breaking down the Endocannabinoids.

The Endocannabinoid system is a complex signalling network that science is really only just beginning to understand. At the most basic level, the Endogenous Cannabinoid System (ECS) sends signals to the rest of your body when something is out of balance. For example, if you are hungry, your ECS activates to send signals letting you know that you are hungry.

The Endocannabinoid system is one of the most extensive signaling networks in the brain.  The body functions affected by the ECS include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Feeding
  • Energy Regulation
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Sleep Cycles
  • Regulation of neurotransmitter release
  • Neural excitability
  • Synaptic plasticity
  • Regulation of transmitter release
  • Neurogenesis
  • Cell death
  • Cell migration
  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Nociception
  • N-arachidonoylethanolamide or “anandamide”
  • 2-arachidonoylglycerol or (2-AG)
The Endogenous Cannabinoid System was discovered while researchers worked to understand why and how cannabis affects people. The plant cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was first isolated and identified In 1964 by Dr. Ralph Mechoulam and his associates. For the following decades researchers worked to uncover why and how cannabinoids affected people. In 1988, scientists located cannabinoid receptors in animal brains. This opened the door to the discovery of the signaling network now known as the Endocannabinoid System. The name reflects the types of chemical messengers that directly affect the system: cannabinoids
Cannabinoids can be classified as either: endogenous cannabinoids (cannabinoids that are naturally made inside your body), phytocannabinoids (plant cannabinoids), and synthetic cannabinoids (eg. marinol).
Absolutely not! The endogenous cannabinoid system is a complex system which is fed naturally by your own naturally created cannabinoids. The details of how you produce your own endogenous cannabinoids and how quickly they are degraded is influenced by diet and lifestyle choices. In the Endocannabinoid System Blog Dr. Heather George expands on the many things beyond cannabis that influence your cannabinoid system.
cannabis contains phytocannabinoids which look like our own endogenous cannabinoids, and therefore stimulate our endogenous cannabinoid receptors. Different cannabis derived phytocannabinoids will influence your endogenous cannabinoid system differently. For example, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) has a strong binding affinity for the CB1 receptors believed to be located predominantly in the Central nervous system including the brain and spinal cord. Conversely, one of the ways CBD (Cannabidiol) is believed to influence your endocannabinoid system is by slowing the reuptake of your naturally occurring endogenous cannabinoids. All the cannabis derived cannabinoids will have their own unique mode of action on your endogenous cannabinoid system.
Each person’s endogenous cannabinoid system is unique. The cannabinoids and terpenes contained in each different marijuana strain or product will affect your body in its own unique way. You may even experience different effects when you consume the same product or strain at different times since your body is always changing.
The cannabis plant is made up of many different constituents including many different cannabinoids and terpenes. The Entourage Effect contends that the naturally combined cannabis compounds create different impacts on the body and mind than a single compound on its own. For example, consuming CBD isolate infused CBD oil will create different effects on the endogenous cannabinoid system and your experience compared to a full spectrum CBD oil that has all the naturally occurring cannabinoids and terpenes that would be found in the cannabis plant.


Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System

Omega 3 & 6 Fatty acids as precursors to endocannabinoids

Phytocannabinoids, Endocannabinoids and Receptors

Endocannabinoid System Scientific articles

Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency

Endocannabinoid Overload