Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the biological system behind how our bodies experience the therapeutic benefits and psychoactive effects of cannabis.  The endocannabinoid system, made up of molecules that are naturally cannabis-like, functions to maintain homeostasis or internal stability in the body as we adjust changes in the environment. The endocannabinoid system was only discovered in the 1900s but research has already discovered that it is involved in many processes, including stress, sleep, pain appetite, metabolism, immune function, inflammation, temperature regulation, and memory. Many of these processes are those that cannabis users are looking to find relief from. 


The endocannabinoid system is made up of three parts: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. There are two types of cannabinoid receptors that play crucial roles in the function of the Endocannabinoid System:

  • CB1 receptors:  Most abundant in the central nervous system (brain & spinal cord) 
  • CB2 receptors: Most abundant  in the peripheral nervous system

These receptors live on the surface of cells and communicate information about changes in the internal environment and activate a targeted response when changes occur by interacting with the body's own endocannabinoids (ie, when you get hot you begin to sweat). This interaction controls the number of neurotransmitters that are released maintaining a balanced environment, this has been compared to a sort of “dimmer switch”. 


When the endocannabinoid system is functioning properly the body will remain in homeostasis. When there are deficiencies present in the ECS causing an imbalance in the body, it is believed that introducing cannabis with its natural cannabinoids, will restore the body to a balanced state. This interaction between cannabis and the ECS is the basis behind why it is believed that cannabis has so many therapeutic qualities. Cannabinoids that naturally occur in cannabis, mimic endocannabinoids to elicit the same balancing response that naturally occurs in the ECS. 

For example, when you ingest cannabis, the THC cannabinoid binds to the CB1 receptor, eliciting the psychoactive response. 

Research is beginning to discover the use of cannabinoids to make up for deficiencies in the ECS. More and more important information is being discovered that validate the science behind why users find relief with cannabis. 


Now that you’ve learned how the endocannabinoid system operates, it’s important to understand the different cannabinoids you are ingesting in order to better utilize the many therapeutic benefits cannabis has to offer. 

Learning to read a COA can give you, the consumer, the transparent view of what goes into a cannabis product. With this knowledge, it is important to ask these questions when choosing any cannabis product in order to make an educated, safe, and the most beneficial choice for your specific needs!

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