Here’s everything we think you should know about your body’s Endocannabinoid System, or ECS, a bodily system experts believe is uniquely designed to interact with cannabis.

You might have arrived on this page wondering what makes cannabis so enjoyable and beneficial?

The answer is in your body’s Endocannabinoid System. Google search data tells us folks like you often ask, “is the Endocannabinoid System real?” We’re here to tell you yes, it is.

And while we’re still discovering much of its functionality, we know that the Endocannabinoid System helps your body process and respond to various cannabinoids (the naturally occurring chemical compounds in the plant).

Still confused? You’re not alone.

So we’re here with a guide to this mysterious system. By the end of this piece, you’ll be an ECS expert.

Endocannabinoid System (ECS) Basics

The ECS is a component of your body’s nervous system. It contains receptors that respond to cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBN, and more.

Essentially, you enjoy consuming cannabis because there are receptors in the human body that respond to cannabinoids. Your body’s response produces the classic psychoactive effects of our favorite plant.

That’s the big picture answer to understanding how the Endocannabinoid System functions; now, let’s zoom in to discover how the system works.

Illustration depicting the endocannabinoid system and affects the human body and brain.

What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

So why do we have cannabinoid receptors?

Your Endocannabinoid System regulates everything from the immune system and metabolism to pain response and much more. And these functions are created by cannabinoid receptor systems that interact with the compounds in cannabis (more on that below).

Who discovered the Endocannabinoid System?

Considering the essential functions of endocannabinoids within your central nervous system, it’s somewhat shocking that it took experts so long to discover the ECS.

But cannabis receptors weren’t discovered until relatively recently.

Cannabinoid receptors were first discovered in 1988 when researchers stumbled upon a mysterious receptor system within the human body.

They described it as a “master regulator,” helping humans maintain daily balance, with an effect that was both subtle and far-reaching.

What are the three main parts of the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system has three central components. They are:

  • Endocannabinoids: the chemical signals that serve as active compounds of the cannabinoid system. 
  • Receptors: located throughout your body and brain, receptors bond and interact with endocannabinoid and cannabis signals.
  • Enzymes: found on endocannabinoid receptors, enzymes break both endocannabinoids and cannabinoids into compounds your body can use.

What are cannabinoids?

Now, you’re probably wondering, “what do cannabinoids do?” And “what is a cannabinoid, anyway?”

Cannabinoids are any of the many naturally-occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant.

At last count, there were over 113 that had been discovered and identified, but THC and CBD are the best-known.

You can also find cannabinoids in synthetic compounds that interact with the Endocannabinoid System, like some of the therapeutic drugs currently being developed through cannabis plant research.

Cannabinoids affect your system because they’re able to interact with and bind to cannabinoid receptors. And what are those? Let’s take a closer look.

What are cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2)?

Naturally-occurring cannabinoids attach themselves to the CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body, creating a mind/body connection within multiple systems.

CB1 and CB2 receptors are everywhere within your body, although there are higher concentrations in certain areas.

You’ll mostly find CB1 receptors within your brain and spinal cord’s nerve cells, while your white blood cells, tonsils, and spleen have the highest concentration of CB2 receptors.

Illustration of human endocannabinoid CB1 and CB2 Receptors

How does THC interact with the ECS?

We know that THC interacts with our Endocannabinoid System to delightful effect, but how does THC work?

What receptor does THC bind to within the Endocannabinoid System to create a relaxing, sedating, psychoactive experience?

While it’s still being researched, we know that CB1 receptor function is mainly expressed in your brain, muscles, fat, and liver cells and is the receptor associated with the psychoactive effects you experience when you consume cannabis, making it associated closely with THC.

However, that doesn’t mean that THC is associated with only one receptor type.

Research suggests that it can bind to both types of ECS receptors, which would explain the wide range of effects THC can have on both mind and body.

How does CBD interact with the ECS?

While less popular than THC, CBD is relaxing, anti-inflammatory, and non-psychoactive. So what receptors does CBD affect?

The CB2 receptor has no known psychoactive effects and creates anti-inflammatory and immune responses, which some researchers believe may explain the link between the endocannabinoid system and CBD.

So what does CBD bind to in the body? While more research is still needed, the CBD neurotransmitter may be your CB2 receptors. This would explain CBD’s calming, relaxation-inducing effects and its impact on inflammation throughout the body.

What should I know about endocannabinoid deficiency?

Right now, endocannabinoid deficiency is a theory rather than an established scientific fact.

However, emerging research suggests that people with chronically low cannabinoid levels in their bodies may experience certain conditions whose underlying causes aren’t entirely understood by medical experts.

These conditions include fibromyalgia, migraines, and IBS, which experts believe may be linked as they often occur simultaneously, don’t have a clear cause and are notoriously hard to treat.

While we still can’t say for sure whether these conditions are connected to endocannabinoid deficiency, we do know that some studies show they respond positively to cannabis as a treatment. So, in the future, we’ll have a better picture of how cannabis consumption can help resolve deficiencies within your ECS.

Why should a cannabis consumer care about the ECS?

Well, frankly, we think it’s fascinating!

But there are many good reasons why cannabis consumers should care about the ECS.

Maybe you’re a science-minded cannabis consumer who wants to know more about how your body responds to your favorite plant. Or you’re someone with an existing medical concern that might be linked to endocannabinoid deficiencies.

Or perhaps you’re a new cannabis consumer looking to understand how cannabis impacts your mind and body.

Whatever your motivations, we hoped our handy explainer helped!

Ready to start some hands-on research? Visit us in person or shop online to connect with your ECS IRL.