Medicinal Cannabis Basics

What is the Endocannabinoid System?


What is the Endocannabinoid System?

In order to understand how medicinal cannabis can impact the body,, it is important to understand the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) was discovered relatively recently, in the 1990s, and scientists are still developing their understanding of this comprehensive cell-signalling system. The endocannabinoid system is a network of receptors within the human body, which plays a role in regulating many functions, including sleep, mood, appetite, pain and a number of other immune responses. 

How does the endocannabinoid system work? 

The endocannabinoid system works through its receptors interacting with the different cannabinoids in our system. These cannabinoids will stimulate the receptors in the ECS and a number of effects can occur, having an impact on a number of functions, such as sleep, mood, appetite, immune response and inflammation, among others. The ECS works through a network of three components: 


Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring neurotransmitters that send signals between nerve cells. Similar in make-up to the cannabinoids found in cannabis, there are two main types of cannabinoids occurring naturally in the body. Anandamide (AEA or arachidonoyl ethanolamide) is found in nearly all types of tissue throughout the  body and primarily binds to CB1 receptors. 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) is almost always found in the brain, and binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. 

Endocannabinoid receptors

The two main types of endocannabinoid receptors are called the CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are usually found in the brain and central nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors are mainly located in the  immune system. Should a cannabinoid have a strong interaction with a CB1 receptor, it can lead to psychoactive effects, due to the receptors being situated in the brain. Endocannabinoids can target or attach to either type of receptor, however, causing different effects on the body, depending on the location and type of receptor. 


Enzymes within the ECS break down the cannabinoids once they have been released and have carried out the necessary response. The two main enzymes that break down endocannabinoids are fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which breaks down 2-AG. 

What does the endocannabinoid system do? 

The endocannabinoid system’s  main function is believed to be the management and regulation of the body’s internal systems. This balance is known as homeostasis. 


Homeostasis is essential for survival, as it regulates our internal functions, despite what is happening externally. It regulates and manages body temperature, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, fluid levels and pH levels. While it can deal with some fluctuations, it relies on cell communication and feedback mechanisms to detect changes so that hormones can be released to correct them. Even minor changes in temperature, blood sugar or other levels can be extremely dangerous.

Other functions

There are several other functions the ECS plays a role in. It is thought to help regulate appetite, promote and regulate sleep cycles and influence our mood, through the release of hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine. It also plays a role in the perception of pain, by managing pain signals. We are still learning the extent of the impact that the ECS can have on our bodies, but as research continues we are learning about the important role it plays.

How does CBD affect the endocannabinoid system?

CBD is believed to affect the endocannabinoid system by regulating the body’s internal functions and adding to the state of homeostasis. 

Research into how CBD has this impact on the endocannabinoid system is still on-going. Researchers are currently debating as to whether CBD prevents endocannabinoids being broken down, thus allowing them to have more of an impact, or whether CBD binds to an undiscovered receptor. How CBD affects the endocannabinoid system depends on the dosage and the individual involved. 

How does THC affect the endocannabinoid system? 

THC affects the endocannabinoid system by binding to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, unlike CBD. Because THC binds to both receptors, it can impact both body and mind . Unlike CBD, THC is more psychoactive and may induce effects associated with euphoria and altered perception.

Currently, you are not legally allowed to drive in most parts of Australia if you have THC in your system. As with CBD, research into the impact on our system is continuing, and varies depending on the individual, dosage and condition. 

Endocannabinoid deficiency 

Endocannabinoid deficiency refers to people whose body does not produce enough endocannabinoids. While research needs to be done, it has been suggested that endocannabinoid deficiency can result in several health challenges.

Endocannabinoid deficiency can be treated with a range of solutions, like exercise, increasing your omega-3 consumption or the intake of phytocannabinoids. 

Want to learn more? 

Kind Medical has a number of educational materials to inform healthcare professionals about medicinal cannabis. Doctors can learn more by accessing our healthcare professionals portal or browsing our range of articles. Alternatively, feel free to contact us today for more information.

Enjoyed this article? Share it! Copy article URL to clipboard
Successfully copied!