The Endocannabinoid System


What is the Endocannabinoid System?

When it comes to cannabinoid-based medicine, people often think of two major cannabinoids     THC and CBD. But most people however, don’t know that the human body has its own system for processing and even creating its own cannabinoids known as the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is found throughout the brain and nervous system and is involved with things like appetite, pain modulation, digestion, reproduction, motor learning, stress and memory.

There are several different types of cannabinoids that the endocannabinoids system can act on.

Endocannabinoids – These are natural cannabinoids that your body produces on its own.

Phytocannabinoids – Phytocannabinoids are produced by the cannabis plant. This includes things like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD (cannabinol), etc.

Synthetic cannabinoids – These are laboratory produced cannabinoids such as those found in your pharmaceutical products like nabilone and Sativex. A prescription for a cannabinoid product can sometimes help you make up a deficiency within your endocannabinoid system. If your body is not producing enough endocannabinoids then we can sometimes supplement the deficiency with those cannabinoids found in plants or created synthetically. Both endogenous (created within) and exogenous (external) cannabinoids bind with receptors in the endocannabinoid system. There are two primary types of receptors in the endocannabinoid system known as the CB1 and CB2 receptors.

CBD1 Receptors are typically found in the brain and throughout the nervous system. Cannabinoids that target these receptors can have an effect on motor learning, coordination, pain modulation and metabolism. CB1 receptors (first discovered in 1990) exist in high numbers in the brain (especially the hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala), central nervous system (CNS), intestines, connective tissues, gonads, and various other glands.

Benefits of activating the CB1 receptor include:

  • Relieving depression
  • Increasing myelin formation
  • Lowering intestinal inflammation
  • Decreasing intestinal permeability (Leaky gut syndrome)
  • Lowing blood pressure
  • Lowering anxiety
  • Reducing fear and paranoia
  • Increasing BDNF levels
  • Increasing PPARY expression
  • Reducing GPR55 signalling
  • Lowering prolactin

While these are desirable effects for most people, CB1 receptor activation does not come without risks. These risks include:

  • Lowered thyroid hormones
  • Reduced ability of the circadian timekeeper (SCN) to entrain to daylight
  • Decreased cognitive function (through decreasing acetylcholine)
    Increased anxiety for individuals going through alcohol withdrawal
  • Constipation
  • Increased liver fat
  • Increased food intake
  • Less burning of fat for energy
  • Neurological and impairments in attention and memory


Please note that these are most often side effects associated with chronic consumption of a potent CB1 receptor agonist such as THC, and not with a non-psychoactive substance such as CBD.


CB2 Receptors are primarily found in the immune system and thus are thought to act in a primarily protective role. CB2 receptors (first discovered in 1993) occur most commonly in the spleen, tonsils, thymus, and immune cells such as mast cells, monocytes, macrophages, B and T cells, and microglia; only a small number exist in the brain. Changes in CB2 receptor function is synonymous with virtually every type of human disease; be it cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurodegenerative, psychiatric, and autoimmune. It even plays a role in liver and kidney function, bone and skin health, cancer, and even pain-related illnesses.

Activating the CB2 receptor induces macrophages to destroy the beta-amyloid protein which is the main component of the plaque found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.  


Facts about The Endocannabinoid System. 

  • All animals have an endocannabinoid system and so they can benefit from CBD.

All animals from mammals to reptiles have an endocannabinoid system so CBD can benefit you and your pet’s health in the same way.

  • The endocannabinoid system (ES) plays a role in many aliments and diseases.

The ECS helps bring balance to the body and mind. So, it is no surprise that scientist have observed changes in ECS activity in a number of diseases. Everything from neurodegenerative disorders to rheumatoid arthritis and cancer have shown changes in endocannabinoid levels and therefore greater receptor expression. This suggests that the ES may be an effective target for restoring balance in the body and promoting good health.

  • Exercise and diet may boost the endocannabinoid system (ES).

Scientist have found that prolonged and ultimately regular aerobic exercise increases levels of anandamide. Which is the “feel good” endocannabinoid therefore diet it also a useful target thus increased your intake of the essential fatty acid and omega 3 found in oily fish or healthy seeds like flax or hemp consequently can help support endocannabinoid brain signalling.


CBD and the endocannabinoid system

CBD does not fit exactly into either CB1 or CB2 receptors. CBD stimulates both receptors and causes a reaction with out binding directly, creating changes un the cells that contains them. CBD also binds to a protein -receptor couple, TRPV-1, responsible for regulating body temperature, pain and inflammation. CBD is also known for counteracting the effects of THC, activating serotonin receptors, and inhibiting a gene attributed to several cancers. CBD has grown in popularity recently as research and anecdotal evidence increasingly demonstrates the impact it can have on the body.

The endocannabinoid system and health

The endocannabinoid system is a huge part of the human body that we are just beginning to understand. it’s important, especially for patients and consumers, to stay informed about the endocannabinoid system and the evolving science of medical cannabis. it’s largely overlooked in the medical community. It’s not taught in medical schools. It’s definitely not taught in veterinary schools. So doctors and veterinarians are essentially misguided around a huge, huge piece of science that has been sort of strategically removed from the consciousness and unfortunately it means that we’re quite behind with our research, but there’s enough research out there for us to know that indeed all animals have an endocannabinoid system and that this endocannabinoid system is actually incredibly important in our physiology.