What is the Endocannabinoid System

With CBD becoming a household word, education and research are improving. In this article, we’ll explain the Endocannabinoid System, what it is, when it was discovered, by whom, and how CBD works with it.

What does Endocannabinoid mean?

The name endocannabinoid means, “cannabinoids enter in”.  Endo is a Latin root for “in,” and cannabinoids are the compounds that come from the cannabis plant. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is as old as human life. Scientists discovered and named it while researching how opioids and cannabis affect the brain.


Systems of the Human Body

  • skeletal
  • nervous
  • muscular
  • respiratory
  • endocrine
  • immune
  • cardiovascular/circulatory
  • urinary
  • integumentary
  • reproductive
  • digestive

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

To understand the ECS and how it works, you need to understand the basic knowledge of the human body. Humans have 12 major systems that manage physiological (normal functions like eating, moving, and breathing) and psychological functions (like problem-solving, language, attention, and memory). Some of these major systems include skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular, and nervous systems.

But there are a whole host of minor systems that assist in their functioning like sidekicks to superheroes. ECS falls in the sidekick category. The ECS works alongside the superhero nervous system to assist in passing messages back and forth from the brain to the body and vice versa. The endocannabinoid system specifically interacts with the chemical impulses that help monitor homeostasis.

What CBD Does in the Human Body

The bits and pieces that make up CBD, cannabinoids, act as substitutes for the neurotransmitters, or natural chemicals, produced by your body. These substitutes assist when your body isn’t producing enough of the neurotransmitters needed to regulate natural homeostasis. When your body fails to produce enough transmitters, problems occur. Chronic illnesses are the biggest culprits. The chemicals in CBD swoop in and boost the messages transmitted; they help balance and give relief.

the human-body-with-the-nervous-sytem-and-CBD-receptors

Endocannabinoid System helps regulate:

  • Sleep
  • Appetite
  • Digestion
  • Mood
  • Motor control
  • Immune function
  • Reproduction and fertility
  • Pleasure and reward
  • Memory
  • Temperature regulation
  • Pain

The Endocannabinoid System Parts

The Endocannabinoid System is made up of receptors and cells. The receptors are like locks and the cannabinoids, CBD or THC, unlock them like keys. Researchers have identified two endocannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. These receptors, though part of the same overarching system, work in different parts of the body. CB1 works with the central nervous system, and CB2 with the immune system. Even though CB1 and CB2 are both parts of the ECS, and both work to create balance, they function and perform different tasks.

The two Receptors

  • CB1 works mainly in the central nervous system found in the brain and spinal cord. Although traces can be found in other areas like white blood cells, the spleen, etc, research thus far shows they work primarily to maintain balance with pain, anxiety, and nausea receptors. Studies have shown, the cannabinoids most effective for pain, nausea, and depression include levels of THC.
  • CB2 works mostly with immune cells and those in charge of inflammatory responses. With illnesses like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease, CB2 aims to create balance and patients get relief.
  • Neurochemicals are the transmitters. In this case, these are the cannabinoids
  • Neuron Synapses are the ends of the nerves transmitting messages from the brain
  • Cells are the receivers of the messages and can be from any part of the body
  • Cell receptors or the gatekeepers that receive the messages and then incorporate them into the cell and work toward homeostasis or balance.

Even though human bodies are generally built the same, no two people are identical, not even identical twins. DNA dictates the number of receptors a person may or may not have, and the two receptors we know of (CB1 and CB2) respond to a variety of cannabinoids, 400 identified to date. More research is needed to fully understand the extent of cannabinoids’ abilities and to identify more receptors.

Who discovered the Endocannabinoid System and When?

Even though cannabis has been around for thousands of years and is a welcomed part of many cultures, documented research has only been made public in the last few decades in America. Before WW I, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 banned cannabis use and sale in America. After WWII the United States occupation of Japan made it illegal there too. Once Marijuana became a prohibited drug, the reputation stuck; the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 only cemented the false information about cannabis. and it’s been nearly impossible to shake. However, science and research turned the tide.


For more on the discovery of the ECS System click here to watch an interview of Allyn Howlett on the study of cannabis.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) today seems like a buzzword, but shortly after the Controlled substance act of 1970, scientists discovered how opioids affected brain transmitters in 1973. Then fifteen years later, around 1988, William Devane and Allyn Howlett identified mammal brain receptors responding to cannabis compounds, ironically, in a government-funded study at the St. Louis University School of Medicine. Through the next decade, the first dozen or so cannabis compounds were isolated. Today scientists have uncovered and named over 400 cannabis compounds.

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