What is the Human Endocannabinoid System?

The CB Receptors in the endocannabinoid system


Rich Pelley

If you’ve read up on the reported benefits of CBD, you will have seen the words ‘endocannabinoid system’ crop up. Also known as the ECS, it plays a pivotal role in the way your body functions and – according to studies – the therapeutic effects CBD is believed to offer.

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?

Put simply, the human endocannabinoid system is the regulatory mechanism responsible for maintaining the homeostatic or homeostasis balance in the body.

It takes care of all the other systems in your body, such as the nervous system, cardiovascular system, immune system, reproductive system, and all physiological systems. Because of this, it’s believed to have an impact on everything from sleep and emotional wellbeing, to appetite and memory. Its influence is truly wide-ranging.

CBD and the human endocannabinoid system
What is the Endocannabinoid system?

Who Has an Endocannabinoid System?

It’s not just humans who are born with the endocannabinoid system. All animals – vertebrates and invertebrates alike – are known to have it, too. 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.

And, yet, the endocannabinoid system was only discovered in 1994, making it a relatively recent revelation for medical experts. The fact that it is found in all these animals emphasises its importance in the body, as both an ecological and survival function.

How Does Your Endocannabinoid System Work?

Your endocannabinoid system is a system, which means it is made up of many different components. The three you need to know about are endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors and enzymes. Here’s the role they each play…

1. Endocannabinoids

The main function of the endocannabinoid system is to deliver messages, so that if something changes, the body can react by sending a signal via one of its messenger molecules. These messenger molecules within the endocannabinoid system are called endocannabinoids.

2. Cannabinoid Receptors

In order for the messenger molecules – the endocannabinoids – to deliver signals around the body, they must bind to a specific cell, called a cannabinoid receptor.

There are at least two known cannabinoid receptors: CB1, which is in the central nervous system, and CB2, which is in the peripheral nervous system (nerves in your extremities), the digestive system, and specialised cells in the immune system.

The effect endocannabinoids have depends on the receptors they bind to. For example, if they target CB1, they may regulate your mood, while reaching CB2 could help with inflammation. When your ECS is functioning correctly, it will produce the endocannabinoids you need when you need them, resulting in that aforementioned homeostasis balance in the body.

3. Enzymes

Enzymes are present in the endocannabinoid system to metabolise the endocannabinoids. Typically, they break the messenger molecules down quickly, once they’ve completed their balancing act.

Cannaray CBD capsules

What Does Your Endocannabinoid System Do?

A good example of the human endocannabinoid system in action is the way that the body controls temperature.

Our bodies must maintain a very specific temperature range of 36.5–37.5°C at all times. When you start exercising, you start to get hot, so the ECS has to send specific messages to your receptors to ensure the body temperature stays within this range. The body expels the unwanted heat by producing sweat. This sweat then evaporates from your body in an endothermic process, which causes your body temperature to go down.

The opposite example is when you go out in the cold. Again, the body tries to adapt to keep the body temperature within range – this is why you start to shiver. These shivers are an exothermic process triggered by the endocannabinoid system, which causes the body to produce heat.

Regulating temperature is just one of the many things that the endocannabinoid system is responsible for. It helps maintain a balance so that the body is able to function at its optimal levels.

Endocannabinoid System Diagram

How Might CBD Affect the Endocannabinoid System?

As you now know, your body naturally produces endocannabinoids. We call them endocannabinoids to distinguish them from the plant cannabinoids or phytocannabinoids.

However, phytocannabinoids, such as CBD, are also believed to bind to cannabinoid receptors, deliver the message, and potentially have the same therapeutic effect. Plus, while naturally-occurring endocannabinoids are metabolised extremely quickly by enzymes in the body, these enzymes cannot metabolise the phytocannabinoids in the same way.

This means that the phytocannabinoids, such as CBD, may actually have a much longer lasting effect within your body.

So when the endocannabinoid system isn’t functioning properly due to various conditions, adding plant cannabinoids – such as CBD – to your body may actually help the endocannabinoid system to restore balance. No wonder CBD and the ECS have garnered so much interest.

CBD products that work with the endocannabinoid system

How Can I Try CBD?

There are multiple ways to take CBD, and they’re all said to act upon the endocannabinoid system, whether you use CBD oils, capsules or topicals. However, an oil taken sublingually is one of the most effective ways, offering ultra-fast absorption when placed directly underneath your tongue.

If you’d like to try it, opt for the CBD Oral Drops. We recommend starting with the 300mg bottle (10mg per dropper), then adjusting to a higher dosage as you see fit. To make CBD part of your self-care routine, you could also try working our Muscle Balm into areas of tension. It’s believed topical CBD can interact with localised receptors near the surface of the skin.

Want to know more about how CBD may interact with the human body? Discover the ways fitness lovers are using CBD after a workout.

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