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The Endocannabinoid System: How Cannabis Works


    8 min Read

    THC and CBD were extracted from cannabis in the early 1940s. Since then, researchers have categorized over 100 additional cannabinoids.

    Initially, researchers believed that the psychoactive effects of cannabis and its cannabinoids were relatively unspecific on nerve cell membranes because of their fat-soluble properties.

    However, they soon discovered cannabinoid receptors and the endocannabinoid system. They both tell a very different story! Do you want to learn about the endocannabinoid system and how it works? Keep reading for a guide that breaks it down for you!

    What Is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

    The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a biological system found in humans and other mammals alike. The components of the ECS regulate various functions. It helps control functions such as mood, appetite, memory, sleep, pain sensation, and reproduction.

    The ECS helps to maintain homeostasis, the concept that our biological systems actively regulate and maintain our bodily conditions to be just right.

    Quite often, it's compared to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks strived to find porridge that was not too hot and not too cold. Homeostasis refers to the regulation of things like blood sugar level, body temperature, and water content.

    When something in the body changes, biological systems like the ECS can remedy those changes, and even things out.

    What Makes up the ECS?

    The endocannabinoid system is composed of receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. Let's take a look at their roles and how they relate to the ECS as a whole.

    Cannabinoid Receptors

    Cannabinoid receptors live on the surface of cells. From there, they "listen" to conditions and changes outside the cell and transmit that information to the inside of those cells.

    There are 2 primary cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. Additional receptors exist. However, CB1 and CB2 receptors mediate many of the effects of cannabinoids and endocannabinoids.

    Several areas in the brain contain very high levels of CB1 receptors. They mediate a lot of the psychoactive effects of cannabinoids.

    CB2 receptors, on the other hand, exist primarily outside of the central nervous system. They can be found in places like the immune system and the gastrointestinal system. They're also found in the brain, but not nearly as much so as CB1 receptors.

    Both CB1 and CB2 primarily couple to inhibitory G proteins.


    The human body's cells create endocannabinoids. "Endo" translates to "within." Thus, endocannabinoids are similar to cannabinoids, but those that are made within the human body.

    Endocannabinoids are molecules. So is THC, a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Endocannabinoids bind to and activate the body's cannabinoid receptors.

    Anandamide and 2-AG are the major endocannabinoids studied and found within the body. Both are made from fat-like molecules inside cell membranes. They're created immediately and used by the body exactly when they're needed.

    Many biological molecules are packaged and stored for later use. Endocannabinoids, however, are synthesized on demand.

    Ananda is Sanksrit for "joy" or "bliss." Anandamide is often called "the bliss molecule." Anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine), or AEA, is a fatty acid neurotransmitter. It's similar to THC, and while it won't get you "high," it does have a calming effect.

    2-AG (2-ArachidonoylGlycerol) exists in high quantities in the central nervous system. Just like anandamide, 2-AG also has an effect on the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the peripheral and central nervous systems. Researchers believe it plays an essential role in immune system functions. It may also help with pain management and the regulation of appetite.

    Metabolic Enzymes (to break down endocannabinoids after use)

    Metabolic enzymes in the body may help to regulate endocannabinoid function. They break down endocannabinoids soon after they're used and control their cellular activity.

    The body's FAAH enzyme breaks down endocannabinoids like anandamide. While it can break down what your body creates rather quickly, it can't break down THC. It gives THC the chance to stick around longer. The result is the psychological effects or healing effects many cannabis users are looking for.

    Phytocannabinoids: How Cannabis Works

    Cannabinoids are a broad class of chemical compounds. They help regulate and balance biological functions.

    There are 2 main categories of cannabinoids: endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.

    Cannabinoids produced in the cannabis plant's trichomes are called phytocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are produced by the human body and by other animal species. Plants produce Phytocannabinoids.

    When phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC are extracted and then consumed, they interact with the body's receptors. Through their interactions, they create many different therapeutic and psychotropic effects in humans. This is why Origins worked with third party cannabis laboratories to create the Lifestyles Spectrum based on cannabinoid ratios. When knowing the cannabinoid ratio, you can select your hemp and marijuana products accordingly based on the effect you are wanting to feel.

    Endocannabinoid System and CBD

    Medical experts and researchers believe that CBD inhibits the enzyme FAAH (Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase). FAAH is the main molecule that breaks down and recycles endocannabinoids (like anandamide) made by the body.

    We mentioned earlier that anandamide exerts positive effects on things like memory, pain, brain function, and mood. As CBD works to inhibit the breakdown of that endocannabinoid, it helps to maintain anandamide levels. Thus, it enhances the beneficial effects of anandamide in the ECS.

    CBD also binds slightly to the receptors and can contribute to other bodily health benefits.

    Endocannabinoid System and THC

    Unlike CBD, THC boasts psychoactive properties. They may help with ailments like low appetite, insomnia, pain, anxiety, and nausea. FAAH can't break down THC, which is why THC can linger and play a significant role in influencing your body's receptors.

    Cannabinoids also have antioxidant properties that work to care for the plant from which they're derived. Their antioxidants protect the flowers and leaves from UV radiation. They do so by neutralizing harmful free radicals and protecting the plant's cells.

    Free radicals can cause cancer and aging. Natural supplements contain antioxidants from plants to prevent harm from free radicals. CBD can be found in a variety of skincare products, too.

    Bodily Systems and the Endocannabinoid System

    In many cases of homeostasis, the functions that work towards maintaining balance in the body are necessary for survival. Disturbances to physiological equilibrium, for example, can lead to impaired health.

    It could be a mild headache or anxiety, or it could be a more serious ailment like arthritis or cancer. Regardless, the body's ability to adjust to those changes and maintain homeostasis is vital.

    The ECS regulates many processes in the body. It's through these receptors and metabolic enzymes that cannabinoids interact with the body. They interact with our bodily systems and then trigger advantageous effects.

    Despite its significance, the endocannabinoid system was only recently discovered. Researchers, scientists, and medical professionals are only now beginning to understand the weight of its role in the body.

    Here are some of the many bodily functions research has linked to the ECS:

    • Metabolism
    • Chronic pain
    • Appetite
    • Digestion
    • Learning and memory
    • Mood
    • Inflammation
    • Immune system responses
    • Sleep
    • Motor control
    • Muscle formation
    • Cardiovascular system function
    • Liver function
    • Stress
    • Skin function
    • Nerve function
    • Reproductive health and function

    If you endure outside pain, like a fever or an injury, the ECS works to regulate your bodily functions and maintain homeostasis.

    Endocannabinoid System Deficiency

    While it's still being explored, many experts believe in clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). The theory suggests that ECS dysfunction or low endocannabinoid levels in the body can lead to the development of certain ailments and conditions.

    In other words, the deficiency could cause some people to develop things like migraines, IBS, and fibromyalgia. None of these 3 conditions have an underlying cause. Plus, they're resistant to treatment and sometimes occur hand-in-hand.

    Let's assume CECD does exist. Targeting endocannabinoid production could provide a missing link to the treatment of these conditions. More research is needed to confirm this theory.

    Are you looking for a strain to help with productivity or one that alleviates depression? While there's still much to be discovered, a lot of the research has already been done.

    Animals With Endocannabinoid Systems

    The ECS exists in animals, too. This is more proof that it plays an essential role in the maintenance and regulation of bodily function.

    All animals, including vertebrates (birds, reptiles, fish, and mammals) and invertebrates (leeches, mussels, sea urchins, etc.), have been discovered to have endocannabinoid systems.

    Researchers are only beginning to uncover the roles that plant molecules like terpenes, flavonoids, and phytocannabinoids could have on animals. Medical professionals and researchers in the veterinarian community are beginning to discover how cannabinoids may help with the ECS in different species.

    How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?

    The endocannabinoid system plays a significant role in keeping the body's internal processes stable. However, there is still much to be discovered.

    Researchers and scientists are just beginning to uncover how the ECS affects our bodily functions. It's truly an exciting venture. There remains much to be discovered and tested in terms of how cannabinoids can help alleviate pain and provide balance for those who don't have it, to begin with.

    Are you looking for cannabis products to help alleviate an ailment by regulating your ECS? Shop around here or contact us with any questions or concerns. We are here to help!

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