endocannabinoid system

What Is the Endocannabinoid System? How it works

Cannabis products are becoming more popular and widely used all over the world, thanks to the unique medicinal and therapeutic effects they can provide. But why is it that cannabis is able to have such interesting effects on the human body? Well, it’s all because of the endocannabinoid system, or ECS. This guide will explain exactly what the ECS is and how it works.

Endocannabinoid Discovery Timeline

Before we look at what is the ECS, it’s important to understand how scientists learned about this system. The history of endocannabinoid research goes back decades, and the first big breakthrough came in the 1960s:

  • The mid-60s: In the mid-1960s, a researcher named Raphael Mechoulam discovered that CBD and THC were among the key active ingredients in the cannabis plant. In the decades that followed, researchers tried to find out how these cannabinoids took effect on the body. But it took a long time before their interactions with the endocannabinoid system to be discovered.
  • 1988: Finally, in the late 80s, a researcher from St. Louis University called Allyn Howlett made use of a brand new technique, known as radiolabeling, in order to discover cannabinoid receptors in rats.

what is the endocannabinoid system

  • 1990s: In the 90s, further studies took place into cannabinoid receptors in both rats and humans. Scientists managed to clone these receptors, and much more is discovered about how they work and how the body’s own endocannabinoids can interact with cannabinoid receptors throughout the cannabinoid system.
  • 21st Century: In the new millennium, as more is learned about how marijuana works and what benefits it can offer, scientists discover that cannabinoids from the cannabis plant, like THC, are able to bind with receptors, like CB1 and CB2 receptors, to trigger certain effects throughout the body. However, many mysteries remain about how exactly the endocannabinoid system works and the many roles it has.

What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is a complex cell-signaling system found in human and animal bodies. Like the immune system or central nervous system, it has its role to play in various bodily processes and is quite complex, made up of several key elements, including receptors and endocannabinoids.

endocannabinoid system and cbd

The endocannabinoid produced by the human body can interact with receptors, like the CB1 receptor and CB2 receptor. Then, the ECS responds to that change by triggering certain effects. It can have an influence over many bodily processes and sensations, from the feelings of hunger and tiredness to mood and stress levels.

How Does the Body Produce and Release Endocannabinoids?

The body makes its own endocannabinoids. They’re found in many parts of the body, including different organs and muscle tissue. They only become activated and take effect when they bind with receptors, which are also located in many different parts of the body, such as the brain.

Research is ongoing to learn more about how exactly the endocannabinoids are made and what is involved in the binding process when they meet receptors. Some theories suggest that the ECS responds to imbalances in the body. So, if the level of a certain chemical or hormone is imbalanced, the ECS will take action to fix it.

Parts of the ECS

The ECS is made up of several key components, including receptors and endocannabinoids. Here’s a brief explainer of each part and its role in the system:

  • Cannabinoid Receptors – The receptors are the parts of the ECS that receive the endocannabinoids. The cannabinoids bond with the receptors, which are divided into two main types – CB1 and CB2 – and this process triggers some kind of change or process in the body.
  • Cannabinoids – Cannabinoids are the molecules that bind with the receptors and trigger changes via the ECS. There are lots of different kinds of cannabinoids, like anandamide and 2-AG. We can divide them into different groups. There are endocannabinoids, made by the body, as well as phytocannabinoids, which come from cannabis plants but can also bind with receptors in the ECS.
  • Enzymes – Finally, there are enzymes. Their purpose is to break down endocannabinoids after they’ve joined with receptors and fulfilled their purpose. They work similarly to digestive enzymes, breaking down molecules piece by piece.

How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?

Now you know the main parts of the endocannabinoid system, it’s easy to see how it basically works. If the ECS detects something wrong or imbalanced in the body, cannabinoids are produced. The cannabinoids then bind with receptors, triggering some kind of process or change. Cannabinoids from marijuana, like different types of CBD, can also interact with the ECS in similar ways and trigger changes or effects.


What Is the Function of Endocannabinoids?

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the endocannabinoid system and what the various endocannabinoids exist for. However, their main role is to bind with CB1 and CB2 receptors. This process then causes signals to be sent through the ECS, leading to changes in sensations, moods, or bodily processes.

How Does THC Interact with the ECS?

THC is the most common of all phytocannabinoids and works almost identically to the endocannabinoid produced naturally in the body. It binds with CB1 receptors in the brain, triggering brain activity in various regions, which can then lead to the effects associated with THC, like feelings of happiness and the famous “high” sensation. You can contact us to learn more about THC’s functionality and benefits.

How Does CBD Interact with the ECS?

Research into the endocannabinoid system and CBD is still ongoing, and scientists aren’t exactly sure how CBD works. It is believed that it doesn’t bind with CB1 receptors, but may instead interact with CB2 receptors and other receptors around the body, like those responsible for serotonin. That’s why, if you use CBD oil and products from a cannabis dispensary, you can feel calmer and less stressed.

We hope that this guide has answered your questions about what is the ECS and what are cannabinoids. As we can see, the ECS is quite a complex system, and there’s still more to find out about it in the years ahead, but it clearly plays a big role in many bodily feelings, and cannabis products can influence it in some interesting and therapeutic ways.

Ian Baker handles content marketing at Happy Leaf Portland. There are 5 years that he is deeply involved in the cannabis field. He had 3 years of experience as a Budtender and thanks to his desire to achieve more, he has a career move. Currently, he works as a content manager.