The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and How it Relates to CBD

Although the endocannabinoid system sounds like it pertains directly to cannabis, this isn’t the case. The endocannabinoid system actually exists within your own body, entirely independent of cannabis. Everyone is born with an endocannabinoid system and it plays an integral role in regulating a wide variety of bodily functions.

Despite the fact that the endocannabinoid system isn’t directly associated with cannabis , the two do have a correlation. While some parts of cannabis are harmful to the human body, others are known to have health benefits. This is where cannabidiol (CBD) comes in.

What Is The Endocannabinoid System?

To understand how cannabidiol relates to the endocannabinoid system, it’s important to first understand what the endocannbinoid system is.

Your brain and body are designed to respond to changes in your environment. According to how the environment around you changes, your body can release certain chemicals to trigger emotions and reactions that help you act out in a way that’s beneficial within a particular situation.

For example, whenever you experience a dangerous situation, your brain will automatically respond by inducing a “fight or flight” response. This response is made possible by your brain and body working together to create a hormone called adrenaline. Adrenaline has many functions, such as increasing your heart rate, optimizing your carbohydrate metabolism and preparing your muscles for exertion.

Most people are aware of adrenaline and how it can influence your body in a dangerous or stressful situation, making it a good example of how your brain and body work together to create endocannabinoids.

Similar to how adrenaline is released in a stressful situation, endocannabinoids are also produced by the body in reaction to environmental changes.

Here are just a few examples of situations that can lead to elevated levels of endocannabinoids, as well as their function within each situation:

  • Hunger: appetite stimulation
  • Stress and anxiety: stress and anxiety reduction
  • Pain: pain relief

The endocannabinoid system, is the system responsible for producing and releasing endocannibinoids. This system is necessary to help your body maintain normal function throughout everyday life.

It’s important to note that the endocannabinoid system is a normal bodily system present in every human being. Its existence isn’t related to the use of cannabidiol (CBS) – but rather, the other way around. The use of cannabidiol has an impact on the human body as a result of the endocannabinoid system, and the effect of CBD on this already existing system.

How Does The Endocannabinoid System Work?

The basic function of the endocannabinoid system can be explained by using an example of a lock and key.

Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that act as ligands – a reaction takes place when endocannabinoids are binded to cannabinoid receptors. So the endocannabinoids can be seen as they key, whereas the cannabinoid receptors are the lock helping endocannabinoids “unlock” certain reponses.

There are two main cannabinoid receptors present in the human body, CB1 and CB2 receptors. These cannabinoid receptors are present in the central and peripheral nervous systems, meaning they’re spread throughout the human body.

There are also various kinds of endocannabinoids present in the human body, such as anandamide (also known as AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (also known as 2-A). These endocannabinoids are produced in the brain through different enzymes responsible for both synthesizing and degrading endocannabinoids.

The Role of the Endocannabinoid System

So the endocannabinoid system is a system that exists within your body, producing and releasing endocannabinoids in certain situations. But what’s the role of the endocannabinoid system really?

Stress Reduction

As briefly mentioned earlier, the endocannabinoid system plays an important role in stress reduction.

Whenever you experience stress, your body is releasing a hormone called cortisol, which is the stress hormone. Along with cortisol, endocannabinoids are also released during stressful situations to counteract the effects of cortisol. This might seem counter-intuitive, as your body is releasing cortisol for a reason, but the endocannabinoids released aren’t necessarily meant to eliminate your stress, but rather to balance it.

Your endocannabinoid system can also learn from stressful situations. Upon experiencing the same stressful situation multiple times, your body will learn to release more endocannabinoids in reaction to that situation, helping to reduce your cortisol (stress) levels every time you experience it again.

Memory Formation and Filtering

Your endocannabinoid system also plays an important role in memory formation. Endocannabinoids are released in various parts of the brain, but particularly the hippocampus, to help with memory formation. The hippocampus, is the part the brain associated with long-term memory and emotion.

Once released in your hippocampus, these endocannabinoids help to filter memories by allowing the formation of helpful memories, while preventing the formation of harmful, emotionally aversive memories. Examples of helpful memories are everyday things such as names and lists, while an example of a harmful memory is a traumatic event, for instance.

Appetite Stimulation

The endocannabinoid system (or ECS, for short) also plays an important role in appetite. According to research, the ECS is responsible for initiating appetite in humans. Unfortunately, there also seems to be a correlation between endocannabinoids and craving sweet, unhealthy, tasty foods.

But while the research regarding ECS and appetite is still relatively new, it’s generally accepted that ECS plays some role in appetite stimulation. The full extent of ECS involvement in appetite, however, is not yet known.

Pain Relief

The ECS also has an association with controlling pain and pain relief. This pain relief function might not only relate to physical pain, but also emotional pain and depression.

It’s been found that there’s some association between problems in the ECS and certain conditions. Various problems in the ECS have been linked to health conditions such as migraines, Parkinson’s disease, depression and irritable bowel syndrome.

According to this research, there’s a direct correlation between levels of endocannabinoids and pain, where a decline in endocannabinoid levels results in experiencing more pain. Conversely, an increase in certain endocannabinoids has an analgesic effect.

With this in mind, researchers have been able to explore into the effects of endocannabinoids and arthritis pain.


It’s been shown that endocannabinoids are released during physical activity, such as exercise. Particularly, endocannabinoids are associated with the euphoric effects of exercise, also called “runner’s high”. It’s now believed that the increased levels of endocannabinoids during physical activity are responsible for the analgesic and euphoric effects.

These are just some examples of instances where endocannabinoids are released. A lot of research is still necessary to determine the full extent of the function and purpose of the ECS.

What Is Cannabidiol or CBD?

Although our body naturally produces certain cannabinoids (i.e endocannabinoids), there are cannabinoids existing in nature that aren’t produced by the human body.

One example of a cannabinoid produced in nature outside of the human body is cannabidiol (or CBD for short). Cannabidiol is a cannabinoid naturally occurring in cannabis plants.

There are many other cannabinoids in cannabis, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannibinol, cannabigerol and cannabidivarin, to name just a few. However, not all cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant have been studied extensively. What is known, is that certain cannibinoids, such as tetrehydrocannabinol, are actually harmful and dangerous.

Not all cannabinoids in cannabis are necessarily harmful, though. Unlike THC, cannabidiol doesn’t have the same harmful effects. In fact, cannabidiol has been studied for use in certain medical conditions. By isolating cannabinoids that aren’t harmful, such as CBD, it’s possible that certain medical conditions could be treated with the use of cannabinoids.

It’s important to note that when using cannabidiol for medical conditions, the focus is simply on treating the condition at hand, and not to induce a psychoactive effect, as is conventionally associated with the use of cannabis. This euphoric effect (which can lead to dependency on cannabis) doesn’t occur as a result of using CBD products, as the cannabinoids responsible for the “high” aren’t present in CBD products.

The Endocannabinoid System and CBD

CBD has been studied for the use in many medical conditions that cold be related to the endocannabinoid system.

The concept behind this is that CBD – which is similar in chemical structure to our own endocannabinoids – can support and improve the endocannabinoid system in cases of deficiencies or malfunctioning within the system.

CBD has been studied with success as a treatment option for the following conditions:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Pain relief

CBD was effective in some degree for many of these conditions, but some areas show more promise than others. CBD has been proven especially effective for treating certain forms of epilepsy, where its use was able to treat forms of epilepsy that don’t respond to traditional anti-seizure medicines.

Other conditions where the use of CBD has been studied, but still needs more evidence, include the use of CBD for treating substance abuse and tumors – as well as preventing diabetes.

In reality, a lot of research is still needed on how CBD effects the ECS in order to gain its maximum benefits. This is because it’s not entirely known how CBD affects the ECS. What is clear, is that CBD doesn’t have any psychoactive effect in humans and that it doesn’t pose any risk for possible dependency. This means that the benefits of CBD can be enjoyed without the risk associated with using cannabis.

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