What In the World Is the Endocannabinoid System?

Scott Jones

If you’ve done any research on the therapeutic effects of CBD or THC, you’ve likely come across the term endocannabinoid system. And you maybe said, “The endo-whooby-whatty?” 

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You’ve heard of a variety of the body’s various systems of transmitters and receptors, like the nervous system, endocrine system, or respiratory system. The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, may be less well known but that is not due to a lack of importance. In fact, the ECS is getting more and more research attention as medical professionals learn about the many important functions the ECS performs in keeping the human body in balance. Let’s take a closer look at what the ECS is, what it does, how it works, and how we can support its processes with CBD and THC supplements.

The Endocannabinoid System: Keeper of Balance

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for a variety of functions that maintain homeostasis throughout the body so that it can perform its various processes at an optimal level. If you don’t remember from high school biology class, homeostasis is the internal equilibrium of physiological states. Your body naturally wants to stay in this state of equilibrium but unfortunately, we do not exist in a vacuum. External factors are constantly trying to throw us out of whack, like injuries, illnesses, or foreign substances.

When the ECS senses that a system is off balance, it reacts like a feedback loop, similar to the thermostat in your house. When it senses that something is not where it should be, it turns up or down whatever process will help restore the body to that state of homeostasis that it desires to be in. This can mean regulating things like hunger, temperature, or inflammation. 

How Does the ECS Work?

The ECS is made up of three main parts: endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. 


Endocannabinoids, or endogenous (internal) cannabinoids, are cannabinoid molecules that your body produces naturally as they are needed. The two key endocannabinoids identified by scientists are anandamide (AEA), named from the Sanskrit word ananda, meaning bliss, and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). Because your body only produces these endocannabinoids when they are needed to regulate the balance of some function or another, scientists have had a difficult time identifying a level of either that would be considered typical.

Endocannabinoid Receptors

Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body in nearly every system, from your skin to your cardiovascular system. These receptors are sites where endocannabinoids and cannabinoids can bind in order to signal to the ECS that an action needs to take place in order to restore the body to homeostasis. There are two types of endocannabinoid receptors, CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors

CB1 Receptors

CB1 receptors are found primarily throughout your brain and central nervous system, as well as to a lesser extent on other, more external systems. It is the interaction of CB1 receptors with THC molecules that causes the user to experience a high. They play a vital role in regulating the balance of a variety of internal systems, such as:

  • Pain
  • Short term memory
  • Appetite
  • Motor activity

CB2 Receptors

CB2 receptors are found mostly in the more peripheral organs outside of the central nervous system, like the eyes, pancreas, and liver. They play an important part in regulating immune functions of the body. Some of the systems they help to keep in balance include:

  • Immune system
  • Digestive system (gut health)
  • Renal system (urinary health)
  • Respiratory health (lung health)
human endocannabinoid system


After the endocannabinoids have bound to the receptors and signaled to the ECS to either increase or decrease whatever action will restore the body to homeostasis, enzymes then break down the endocannabinoid molecules so they can be expelled from the body. The two enzymes primarily responsible for this are fatty acid amide hydrolase (breaks down AEA) and monoacylglycerol acid lipase (breaks down (2-AG).

If you’re interested in learning more about how the ECS is being studied to develop various health treatments, you can read a Harvard Health article on the subject here.

What Processes Does the ECS Maintain?

Because ECS research is relatively new, and doctors and scientists aren’t clear in all the intricacies of how it works, it’s impossible to say all the bodily functions it may have a hand in keeping in balance. You can read more about the ongoing research on the ECS here. In addition to those already mentioned when we talked about CB1 and CB2 receptors, some of the other areas that research suggests that the ECS regulates include:

How to Supplement Your ECS

man looking at cbd bottle

For reasons that aren’t completely clear, the ECS itself can find itself out of balance. Since it is the ECS’s responsibility to restore balance to much of the rest of the body’s internal states, if it gets out of balance, then the rest of the body is likely to struggle to return to that equilibrium it wants to find so that it can operate at peak performance. This can mean that your body is not producing enough endocannabinoids or that the receptors that need them are somehow blocked. Fortunately, you have a variety of options to help support your ECS when it needs a little help. 

Cannabidiol (CBD) and your ECS

Cannabidiol is one of the two most predominant cannabinoids (out of over 100) found in the cannabis or hemp plant. It is not psychoactive, meaning it does not have mind-altering properties and will not get you high. Because research on the ECS, CBD, and their relationship is still fledgling, the exact way that CBD binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors isn’t entirely clear. Still, there is evidence that supplementing your ECS with CBD can provide a wide variety of benefits. These benefits include:

  • Pain relief
  • Anxiety relief
  • Depression relief
  • Sleep aid
  • Nausea relief

As research on CBD continues, scientists hope to paint a clearer picture of exactly how CBD helps supplement the ECS and provides its therapeutic benefits.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and your ECS

Tetrahydrocannabinol is the other predominant cannabinoid found in cannabis plants. Scientists have been studying the interaction between THC and the ECS much longer than they have with CBD, so more is known. Still, there is a lot of research left to be done to have a clear picture of how the two interact. THC binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors in the same way that naturally occurring endocannabinoids do, but the effects of that binding are not the same. There are more negative side effects associated with THC than with CBD, but THC also has powerful therapeutic properties. These benefits include:

  • Appetite stimulation
  • Nausea relief
  • Glaucoma relief
  • Pain relief

These are just a few of the ways that THC and CBD can help supplement your ECS in helping keep the various systems throughout your body in balance and functioning at the highest level. In fact, there is promising research being done on how THC can help to treat the symptoms of diseases like Parkinson’s, Tourette syndrome, Huntington’s disease, and dementia. If you’re interested in a more detailed scientific breakdown of the research being done, you can read about it here.

Tying it All Together

The ECS is a vital system in your body that really needs a better publicist. Its role in maintaining balance throughout your body should really be discussed more, but because its discovery is relatively recent in comparison to other major internal systems, and the research being done is still underway, it does not get all the credit it deserves. Still, having a better understanding of the ECS can help us make better decisions on how to help it function at its best. For some, that may include supplementing the ECS with additional cannabinoids like CBD or THC. The Green Dragon is a perfect place if you’re looking to find high quality, laboratory CBD and THC products to help you feel your best. If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you down below. 

What In the World Is the Endocannabinoid System?
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