Cannabis and the Endocannabinoid System

Cannabis and the Endocannabinoid System

Cannabis certainly has an effect on the human body. Every cell seems to respond to the vast array of compounds it contains. How is it possible that this natural plant can have such a wide-reaching effect on a myriad of conditions?

The answer to this question lies in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the human body. This system is a central piece of the puzzle that unlocks human health. Understanding what this system is, what it does, and how it interacts with cannabis is crucial for gaining a strong comprehension of how this plant can both alleviate and prevent symptoms and certain diseases.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system of the human body is its most integral system for maintaining health through homeostasis. Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout the human body, including in the brain, immune cells, connective tissues, glands, and organs.

Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how the endocannabinoid system works, but they do know it plays an important role in regulating the following.

  • Sleep
  • Reproduction and fertility
  • Appetite
  • Mood
  • Memory

Many people are surprised to learn the endocannabinoid system in their bodies is always at work, even if they never consume cannabis. Understanding how the ECS works is important for those who are considering using cannabis in any form.

How does the ECS work?

Before you can understand how the endocannabinoid system works, it is important to know the three components that make up the system. They are as follows.

  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptors
  • Enzymes


Endocannabinoids are similar to cannabinoids, but they are made by the human body. They are produced by the body as needed. Two endocannabinoids have been discovered so far.

  • Anandamide (AEA)
  • 2-Arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)


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Endocannabinoid receptors

The human body is full of endocannabinoid receptors. Endocannabinoids bind with the receptors, initiating action by the ECS. There are two main types of endocannabinoid receptors, which are CB1 and CB2.

Endocannabinoids can bind with either type of receptor, and the one they bind with will determine the effect. The effect is also determined by the area of the body where the binding of the receptor takes place.


Enzymes are an integral part of the endocannabinoid system. Once the endocannabinoids have carried out their function, enzymes break them down, so they can be disposed of by the body.

Two main enzymes are a part of the ECS. Hydrolase is a fatty acid that breaks down AEA, and lipase, which is a monoacylglycerol acid, breaks down 2-AG. The ECS is a complicated system, and scientists have yet to discover all its functions and exactly how it works in the human body.

Cannabis and endocannabinoid receptors

Two main cannabinoids bind with the endocannabinoid receptors in the body. The first is THC. Most have heard about THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) because it is the cannabinoid that makes you high.

THC is the most powerful cannabinoid in cannabis because it can bind with both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Because it is so powerful and can bind with both types of receptors, THC can create multiple effects in the body.

CBD (Cannabidiol) is the other cannabinoid found in cannabis. CBD does not make a person high. Although scientists are still researching to find out how CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system of the body, they do know it does not bind to the receptors in the same way as THC.

Instead, it is thought to work on preventing the body from breaking down endocannabinoids. There is also some evidence to suggest CBD may even bind to a different receptor that has not yet been discovered.

Now that you have a better understanding of how the endocannabinoid system in the body works, it is important to learn what cannabis does and how it has helped some people with medical conditions.

How does cannabis help with health conditions?

Although there are countless prescription and over-the-counter medications available to help people cope with a myriad of symptoms, many of these cause unwanted side effects that make taking them difficult. When individuals cannot take their medications because of the side effects, their health often suffers. While certainly not meant as medical advice, there are natural alternatives, like cannabis, which some people use to assist in their recovery. While much research is needed, cannabis is often used by individuals to address the following conditions.

Memory and Learning

As people grow older, it is assumed losing one’s memory is a part of the aging process, but it does not have to happen that way. In a recent study conducted on mice, it was discovered that the THC in cannabis may be used to protect against mental degradation.

Through this study, scientists discovered there were clear changes in the hippocampus part of the brain after the mice were exposed to THC for twenty-eight days. They discovered the genes responsible for longevity were activated, while the genes for cognitive decline were turned down.

Appetite Regulation

Many studies have been conducted regarding the correlation between cannabis and appetite regulation. These studies have often been carried out to help counteract the decreases in appetite that are often experienced in chemo patients.

It has been confirmed that endocannabinoids react with the CB1 receptors. Medical scientists are now working to discover how cannabis may help cancer patients eat normally and avoid losing weight due to a lessened appetite.

Core Temperature Regulation

Studies have indicated that cannabis consumption could help regulate body temperature since some compounds in cannabis may act as homeostatic agents.

Cannabinoids also interact with the vanilloid receptor family, which relate to the perception of heat and pain.

Immune System

Cannabis may affect how the immune system works. The cannabinoids in cannabis have an immunomodulatory effect, which means they can interrupt communications between immune cells.

Cannabis may affect the immune response, depending on how it is delivered and the type. Studies have shown the immune system is changed while interacting with the cannabinoids in cannabis.


When insomnia strikes, a lack of sleep can negatively affect the entire body, preventing it from functioning normally. Many studies are being conducted on the effects of cannabis and the sleep cycle.

Users of cannabis may end up sleeping longer and more deeply. Deeper sleep means waking with more energy and an improved mood, which is important for people of all ages.

Female Reproduction

Female infertility is more common than many people realize, with about 10% of the population facing difficulties in becoming pregnant.

As further research is carried out, scientists are learning more and more about how CBD can help females experience conception and healthy pregnancies.


As research continues on the endocannabinoid system of the human body, it will be interesting to see how cannabis treatments begin to evolve and become a stronger part of traditional medicinal practices.

It is clear that the ECS is integral for the health of the body. Without it, homeostasis is less likely to be maintained. Because the human body is full of endocannabinoid receptors, it seems cannabis is a natural fit for helping improve body function, protecting against diseases, and even treating certain conditions.

With further research, it is hoped medical scientists will have a clearer understanding of how cannabis can be used as a stand-alone or complementary treatment in mainstream medicine. Cannabis can help with a variety of conditions in the human body and is showing greater promise with each new study.

Disclaimer – Information is provided for educational purposes. It does not, and is not intended to,    constitute legal advice or reliable statements of the status of any laws. We attempt to be accurate and up to date but the legality of cannabinoids is evolving. The author is not a lawyer or a legal expert. You should check with your local authorities before buying or using any products.



Raypole, C. (2019, May 17). A Simple Guide to the Endocannabinoid System. Retrieved from

NORML. 2021. Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System – NORML. [online] Available at:

Endocannabinoid System  [online] Available at:


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between CBD and THC?

CBD and THC are both naturally-occurring cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. They have the exact same molecular structure, and a slight difference in how some of the the atoms are arranged makes the difference. THC is the main psychoactive component of the plant that can make people feel high. CBD is not psychoactive and it’s used for its own benefits, without intoxication.

How does CBD make you feel?

High CBD, low THC cannabis can produce a range of effects from clear-headed alertness & energy to calm & relaxation.

The strength of the effects on a particular person will be different depending on a few things: the dosage level, body weight, food or other substances in the system, personal body chemistry, and experience level with cannabis products.

Will CBD products show up in a drug test?

There is a risk of failing a drug test. It depends on the type of CBD product one is using.

Drug tests for marijuana generally identify THC or its metabolites. Although tests do not screen for CBD, full spectrum CBD products contain low quantities of THC that can make a person fail a drug test. If you anticipate taking a drug test, we suggest checking with your employer or test administrator for clarity prior to taking full spectrum CBD products.


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