What Is The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

Posted: 10th May 2019
What Is The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?



CBD is the subject of ongoing research which in turn churns out the beneficial aspects of a balanced and thereby a healthy ECS .

The cannabis plant has its variant compounds generating favourable results. Hence not only is CBD beneficial but so are all of the other compounds found within the Hemp plant.

Latest research suggests the plethora of benefits of CBD, impacts both upon the body and mind, such as treatment for pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, seizure, inflammation, muscle recovery, heart conditions, blood pressure and even decreasing the risk of developing cancer.


The cannabis plant has over 85 cannabinoids within which CBD is one. EDS and their receptors are found in every mammal.

  • Organs
  • Glands
  • Connective tissues
  • Brain
  • Immune cells

It has been found that the cannabinoid system has a different function in each tissue, but the target is to maintaining Homeostasis; which is maintaining a stable internal environment irrespective of the external environment fluctuating.



The three main components of ECS are as follows

  • The Cannabinoid receptors which are on the surface of cells
  • Endocannabinoids which are small molecules which activate the cannabinoid receptors
  • Metabolic Enzymes which break down the ECS after they are used

Cannabinoid Receptors are located throughout the body and are part of the ECS and involves some of the physiological processes. These include pain sensation, appetite, mood and memory. These receptors are on the surface of cells and sensitive to conditions outside the cell. A cellular response is initiated when these changing conditions are transmitted from the outside into the inside of the cell.

Endocannabinoids (Endo means ‘within’; as in within the body) are molecules, and exactly like the plant cannabinoid THC, it binds to and activates cannabinoid receptors. However ECS is produced naturally by cells within the human body, unlike the plant THC .

Metabolic Enzymes are loosely defined class of enzymes that regulate metabolic pathways in energy homeostasis. These often serve as drug target for metabolic diseases such as obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.


CBD interacts with the body through the ECS which is made up of millions of cannabinoid receptor sites located primarily throughout the brain and central nervous system. (CB1 receptors) and immune system (CB2 receptors) that act in neural communication.  Hence this means your ECS is responsible for making sure that your body is working at full capacity.

In the late 1980’s, it was discovered that the ECS regulates the body’s homeostasis. That is the general state of balance impacting on the following functional areas.

  • Sleep
  • Appetite
  • Pain
  • Pleasure
  • Energy metabolism
  • Memory
  • Mood
  • Movement
  • Immune Functions
  • Circulation
  • Cognitive
  • Visceral Sensation
  • Organ Function
  • Growth

Homeostasis is a vital aspect in the biology of all living things and is aptly described as the ability to retain stable internal conditions requisite for survival. The failure to achieve Homeostasis results in diseases. In a nutshell, your ECS is responsible for making sure your entire body is working optimally.


Experts in this field have established that there are two types of cannabinoid receptors; Cannabinoid Receptor type 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2). These two receptors perform very different functions in the human body.

Cannabinoid Receptor Type 1 (CB1)

CB1 receptors which was first discovered in 1990 exist in high volumes and is mainly located in vital organs such as the brain (hypothalmus, hippocampus and amygdala) and the central nervous system, as well as the intestines, connective tissues, gonads, lungs , liver and kidneys.

Benefits of activating the CB1 receptors are as follows:
  • Relieving depression
  • Lowering intestinal inflammation
  • Increasing Myelin formation
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Decreasing intestinal permeability ( leaky gut syndrome)
  • Reducing fear and paranoia
  • Lowering prolactin
  • Lowering anxiety
  • Increasing BDNF levels
  • Increasing PPARY expression
  • Reducing GPR55 signalling
Although most of the above seem quite advantageous and effective for most people, there are also risks involved in activating CB1 receptors.  These are as follows:
  • Lowered thyroid hormones
  • Decreased cognitive function ( through decreasing acetylcholine, LTP, cAMP and Glutamate)
  • Reduced ability of the circadian timekeeper (SCN) to entrain to daylight
  • Increased anxiety for someone going through alcohol withdrawal
  • Constipation
  • Increased food intake
  • Increased liver fat
  • Less burning of fat or energy
  • Neurological symptoms such as depersonalization, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations and impairment in attention and memory

It is imperative however to make note that these are mostly  side effects owing to prolonged consumption of a potent CB1 receptor agonist such as THC and NOT with a non-psychoactive substance such as Initially discovered in 1993, CB2 Receptors is the peripheral receptor for cannabinoids and it is predominantly expressed in immune tissues. Commonly in the spleen, tonsils, thymus and immune cells such as mast cells, monocytes, macrophages, B and T cells and microglia and only a small quantity exists in the brain.

Almost every type of human disease comes on with changes in CB2 receptor function; such as cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurodegenerative, psychiatric and auto immune diseases. It even affects liver and kidney function, bone and skin health, cancer and other pain related illnesses.

Activating the CB2 receptor stimulates macrophages to destroy the beta-amyloid protein which is the main element of the plaque found in the brains of those suffering from the Alzheimer’s disease.


 Endogenous Cannabinoids are neurotransmitters produced within the human body produces. These cannabinoids bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, the immune system and in other areas of the body.  Examples are anandamide, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2 AG), n-arachidonoyl dopamine (NADA) and virodhamine (OAE).

Endocannabinoids work differently with the better known neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.

Dopamine is synthesized in advance, stored in the vesicle and in response to stimuli, is released from the presynaptic cell, where it crosses the synapse, lands on the postsynaptic cell and then activates

In contrast, Endocannabinoids are the main components of cellular membranes that is manufactured on demand. And these ECS cannot travel very far in the body as they are hydrophobic, and hence their effects are localised. Furthermore these ECS travel in the opposite direction to other neurotransmitters. Their route commences from the postsynaptic cell and terminates at the presynaptic cell where there are high concentrations of axons. These axons cause the release of traditional neurotransmitters.

This order of flow permits the postsynaptic cell to control the flow of transmitters coming from the presynaptic cell.


THC has a strong binding affinity to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, whereas CBD (cannabidiol) has no particular binding affinity. As a matter of fact, many therapeutic benefits of CBD are created through indirect actions, not directly.

These aforementioned actions include the activation of TRPV1 Receptors. These Receptors are what is actually responsible for alleviating pain and inflammation in the body and regulating body temperature.

CBD also works to constrain Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH). This restraint helps to create higher levels of ECS like anandamide. This anandamide is also known as the ‘bliss molecule’ aptly termed as it is what generates the neural emotions of pleasure and motivation. This anandamine molecule is also responsible for other functions of the human body such as regulation of feeding behaviour and with the assisting of embryo implantation during early stages of pregnancy.

It’s interesting to note that the name ‘ananadamine’ is a derivative of the Sansktit word ‘ananda’, which means, joy or happiness or bliss ; appropriate for the neural emotions that it generates.