What is the Endocannabinoid System?

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

There is still much to be discovered about the brain and our bodies! This was made evident with the relatively recent discovery of the bodies Endocannabinoid System in the late 20th Century. Starting in 1970, with the results finally culminating in a serious discovery in the 1990s, a scientist (Dr. Mechoulam) and his colleagues in Israel were able to identify and isolate delta-9 THC from cannabis, synthesize CBD from hemp, and isolate the first known endogenous cannabinoid. (Source)

The discovery of this first endocannabinoid, Anandamide, marked the discovery of the endocannabinoid system that exists not only in every person, but every mammal, fish, bird, and reptile! Mechoulam's continued efforts and accompanying contributions have led to him being crowned the Father of Cannabis Research.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

Endocannabinoids have a similar structural makeup to the cannabinoids that are present in cannabis, and the system that responds to these endocannabinoids is active all throughout the human body. Basically, we all have little cannabis-like molecules in us, and introducing cannabis tricks that system into believing there are even more of those endocannabinoids in our system. This can help stimulate certain receptors (CB1, CB2, TRPV) that provide the body with a multitude of benefits.

The main purpose of the ECS is to keep the body's emotional and physical states at a constant and steady level. The cannabinoid receptors (CB1, CB2 Receptors) that makeup the ECS in your body are found in large number in your brain and throughout your body. The CB1 receptors largely outnumber the other receptors that are present in your brain and control the outputs of many of the other neurotransmitters that are present there. They work by providing immediate feedback to the other receptors to mitigate or sometimes crank up certain psychological feelings/needs, like hunger and pain for example.

The CB1 receptors are found more heavily in the brain, while the CB2 receptors can be found in large amounts in your body's immune tissue. Meaning, they are very present in your body's endocrine system. So, properly influencing this system can help mitigate your hunger, stomach inflammation, and offer general muscle relief for swelling/inflammation. The CB2 receptors also tend to provide a less psychoactive response, which can be appealing to many consumers that seek the physical benefits that come from cannabis, without risking some of the averse affects that can stem from misuse and overstimulation of the CB1 receptors. (Source)


Cannabis Receptors in the Endocannabinoid System

So, what exactly are these cannabinoid receptors I keep mentioning? Cannabinoid receptors are specific proteins that exist on the outside surface of the various cells in your body, monitoring the external conditions constantly. When the receptor identifies and binds with an endocannabinoid, signals are then transmitted to the receptor that determine what response the body will take. The response is determined by the location of the specific receptor, as well as the type of endocannabinoid that is bound to the receptor. Endocannabinoids will sometimes also link to TRPV proteins that have a similar function to the other receptors in the ECS.

Here's the basics for each of the 3 potentially affected receptors in the ECS:

  • CB1 Receptor: The CB1 receptors are found mostly throughout the central nervous system and highly populated in the brain. They serve as receptors for the 2 main endocannabinoids produced by the body, as well as the numerous phyto-cannabinoids that are introduced with the cannabis plant. The CB1 receptor is the psychoactive/psychotropic CB receptor that is typically associated with the state-altering affects of THC.
  • CB2 Receptor: CB2 receptors are found throughout the body and are more common in the bodies peripheral nervous system, as well as the immune cells that are constantly cycling through your body via the bloodstream.
  • TRPV Receptor: Transient Receptor Potential members can act as cannabis receptors and modulate certain skin-based sensory processes/functions, like pain, itchiness, temperature and some dermatitis conditions.

Now, there are 2 main endocannabinoids that the ECS responds to, Anandamide and 2-Arachidonoyl Glycerol, or 2-AG for short. 2-AG was discovered a few years by Dr. Mechoulam and his team first isolated Anandamide.


Final Step of the Endocannabinoid System

The 3rd and final component of the ECS is the metabolic enzymes that function to break down the endocannabinoids after they have affected the ECS. There are two primary enzymes that coincide with the two main endocannabinoids

Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH) is primarily responsible for breaking down anandamide, and MonoAcylGlycerol Acid Lipase (MAGL) that breaks down 2-AG.

Bodily Functions Under Control of the Endocannabinoid System

Though the ECS is a relatively recent discovery, there has already been extensive research done to try and identify the many possible benefits and control effects that are provided through its actions. Scientists have successfully identified numerous physiological responses that are a result of the ECS and have even narrowed the responses down to the specific receptors that provide the correlated response. These physiological responses are some of the known benefits/controls that have been identified over the fast few decades of research, with more waiting to be discovered!

CB1 Receptor Affected Functions:

  • Appetite and Weight
  • Bone Physiology
  • Bronchodilation
  • Cardiovascular Function
  • Digestion
  • Emotional Behavior
  • Inflammation
  • Intraocular Pressure
  • Liver Function
  • Memory and Cognition
  • Metabolism
  • Motor Control
  • Muscle Fiber Formation
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Neural Development
  • Neuroprotection
  • Pain Relief
  • Reproductive Function
  • Reward Sensation
  • Sensory Perception
  • Sleep Processes
  • Temperature Control
  • Tumor Awareness/Surveillance

CB2 Receptor Affected Functions:

  • Cramps and Pain through inflammation of the Gastrointestinal system
  • Immune Functions
  • Inflammation
  • Kidney Functions
  • Liver Functions
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Neuroprotection
  • Pain Relief

Different Strain Types and The Endocannabinoid System

The CB1 and CB2 Receptors in the body serve to regulate the physiological state of each person. Both THC and CBD affect varying factors of one's emotional and physiological state. Sometimes having a similar effect, or sometimes having effects that are practically opposing in comparison.

This duality exists in all cannabis plants, and the varying levels of CBD and THC in the plant tend to determine whether a specific strain is classified as a Sativa, or an Indica. For some that tend to be more balanced, the common term "hybrid" is used to describe the strains that don't favor either compound.

Cannabis strains that more heavily favor THC, and are more prominent in the psychoactive and psychotropic effects are typically labeled as Sativas. Cannabis strains that are more CBD heavy, tend to provide a more relaxing physical effect, and are usually labeled as Indicas.

Now, each person is different and will respond differently to the various strains and and the related products. The Indica and Sativa labels are there as a guide, but not as a guarantee for the final result. It is important to be aware of how you may be affected by the consumption of cannabis.

Phytocannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System

Phytocannabinoids are the cannabinoids that are naturally present in the cannabis plant. There are numerous chemical compounds produced by the cannabis plant, with over 100 being phytocannabinoids that interact with our ECS like regular endocannabinoids.

There are many phytocannabinoids, but the two most prominent are Delta-9 THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC typically interacts with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, with it providing the more euphoric or intoxicated feeling that many associate with cannabis when attaching to CB1 receptors. CBD actually will interact with other receptor-like molecules other than the CB1 and CB2 receptors.

How the Endocannabinoid System Affects Memory and Learning

Weed and Memory

Thanks to several studies and some well done research, it has been confirmed that regular usage, or short heavy usage of cannabis, can result in your short-term memory being affected. Don't worry though, it's nothing that can't be fixed with a suitable tolerance break.

Cannabis has been present in society as a remedy for numerous symptoms and for recreational pleasure for centuries! It is believed that cannabis aides in providing a certain sense of relief from the constant tension that exists when going through the day. Now more than ever we are being bombarded with content and distractions, and it can be overwhelming to many. The relief that cannabis provides allows for the brain and the body to unwind from the constant tension, and through that rest and relief, more energy and attentiveness for the coming days.

This affect provided by cannabis that helps the body to forget, and to alleviate that constant tension, has proven to be beneficial to people suffering from PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The physical and psychological discomfort that arises from the intrusive thoughts and feelings that coincide with PTSD can be mitigated with the proper introduction of cannabinoids.

Please always make sure to consult with your Primary Care Physician and your Mental Health Professional before deciding if consuming cannabis in any form to see if cannabis may be right for you!


  • The Endocannabinoid System is a widespread network of complex neuro-receptors that have an important role in the functioning of your Central Nervous System
  • Your Endocannabinoid System helps maintain the internal balance of your body by moderating the physiological state of the body.
  • The Endocannabinoid System was discovered very recently thanks to the  societal and medical desire to better understand the effects of Marijuana on the human psyche. As it was a recent discovery, there is still much that remains unknown on the topic, and new information is constantly coming to light about the complex affects of marijuana.


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Publication Date:April 1, 1964
Morales P, Hurst DP, Reggio PH. Molecular Targets of the Phytocannabinoids: A Complex Picture. Prog Chem Org Nat Prod. 2017;103:103-131. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-45541-9_4. PMID: 28120232; PMCID: PMC5345356.
Zou S, Kumar U. Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System. Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Mar 13;19(3):833. doi: 10.3390/ijms19030833. PMID: 29533978; PMCID: PMC5877694.

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