What is the Human Endocannabinoid System?

The CB Receptors in the endocannabinoid system


Zara Kenyon

If you’ve read up on the reported benefits of CBD, you might have come across the endocannabinoid system. Also known as the ECS, it plays a pivotal role in the way your body functions.

But, what is the endocannabinoid system? And how does it actually work? Keep scrolling for your complete guide to this complex, cell-signalling phenomenon.

What is the Human Endocannabinoid System?

Discovered in the early nineties, the human endocannabinoid system is responsible for intercellular communication in our bodies. Put simply, it sends soothing signals between cells, helping to maintain the balance between different biological functions – also known as homeostasis.

While there’s still much to be researched and revealed about the influence of the ECS, scientists found that it’s closely associated with the body’s self regulating processes. For example, research suggests it can have an effect on the control of metabolism, appetite, pain response, motor coordination, stress – and so much more. The ECS is one of the most extensive biological systems of receptors in the body, meaning it handles many functions necessary for survival.

Girl smiling
What is the Endocannabinoid system?

Who Has an Endocannabinoid System?

It’s not just humans who are born with the endocannabinoid system. In fact, it’s found in the brain and nervous system of all mammalian species, emphasising its importance in the body. The most primitive animal shown to have endocannabinoid receptors is the sea squirt; small tuber-like animals that live in the sea and are thought to have evolved over 600 million years ago.

How Does Your Endocannabinoid System Work?

Now you know what the endocannabinoid system is, and who has one, it’s important to understand how it has such a big impact on various functions in the body. There are three key components that make up the system: cannabinoids, receptors and enzymes. Here’s how each of them ‘unlocks’ homeostasis…

1. Cannabinoids

Around the same time scientists first discovered the endocannabinoid system, they also uncovered a naturally-occurring cannabinoid called anandamide. Known as the ‘bliss molecule’, it’s responsible for the ‘high’ that you feel after exercise and meditation, amongst a number of other cognitive processes, like mood control.

Shortly after, another cannabinoid named 2-AG was revealed. This is the most prevalent in the body, responsible for managing appetite, pain response and immune system functions. Anandamide and 2-AG are endogenous cannabinoids (or endocannabinoids), meaning they’re produced internally by the body – often in response to physiological imbalances in the body.

2. Cannabinoid Receptors

Think of cannabinoids as keys, and receptors as the padlocks they slot into. These locks are found all throughout the body, in the nervous system, glands, immune cells, organs, brain and connective tissue.

When a key (or a cannabinoid) fits a padlock, it causes a reaction in the body. For example, when anandamide binds to a receptor, a blissful state may kick in. There are two main types of cannabinoid receptors in the body. First, you have CB1, which exists in the brain and spinal cord, working to regulate appetite and memory, and to reduce pain.

Then there’s CB2, which is distributed in the immune system. Its primary goal is to reduce inflammation throughout the body. When your ECS is working correctly, it will produce the endocannabinoids you need when you need them, directing them to the correct CB1 or CB2 receptor for homeostasis.

3. Enzymes

Finally, enzymes are present in the endocannabinoid system to synthesise and recycle used endocannabinoids after the body is through with them.

There are two main degrading enzymes: fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which breaks down anandamide, and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG.

Meanwhile, anandamide is synthesised mainly by the sequential action of N-acyltransferase (NAT) and N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine- specific phospholipase D (NAPE-PLD). 2-AG is synthesised by diacylglycerol lipase (DAGL).

Cannaray CBD Muscle Balm

What Does Your Endocannabinoid System Do?

Here’s an example of the system at work: imagine you’re experiencing high levels of stress. This causes your body to produce the stress hormone known as cortisol. When cortisol levels rise, the endocannabinoid system responds by triggering the production of endocannabinoids. They rush to the right receptor and bind to it, which balances cortisol production in the blood. Essentially, those endocannabinoids are an internal regulating system, working hard to help your body work in perfect harmony.

Endocannabinoid System Diagram

How Might CBD Affect the Endocannabinoid System?

As you now know, your body naturally produces endogenous cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids. What’s most significant is that CBD is similar to these chemicals that your body already naturally produces. Because of this, CBD is able to be digested and processed easily and safely.

Holding CBD Capsule in Hand
Cannaray CBD Day time Oil

How Can I Try CBD?

There are multiple ways to take CBD. Sublingual application of a CBD oil is one of the most effective methods, offering ultra-fast absorption when placed directly underneath your tongue.

If you’d like to try it, opt for the Bright Days CBD Oil Drops. We recommend starting with 1ml of oil (equivalent to 50mg CBD), then adjusting to a higher dosage as you see fit. To make CBD part of your self-care routine, you could also try working topicals, such as the CBD Muscle Balm into areas of tension.