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Understanding the Endocannabinoid System

Updated: Dec 29, 2018


What is a cannabinoid?


There are three different types of cannabinoid:

- Endogenous cannabinoids (produced in our own body)

- Phytocannabinoids (produced by plants)

- Synthetic cannabinoids (synthetically engineered in a lab)


Our focus is the plant-derived cannabinoid, or phytocannabinoid, called CBD (cannabidiol).

Cannabinoids act as neuromodulators. They help regulate physiological systems such as our nervous system, muscular system, digestive system, immune system, reproductive system and endocrine system. The human body does not rely solely on phytocannabinoids. Humans, as well as other mammals, are able to produce natural cannabinoids: 2-AG and Anandamide. These two compounds help the body mediate various cellular functions and control neural communication.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) has receptor sites throughout the body. The receptors are embedded within the membrane of our cells. This system is found in the brain, glands, connective tissue, and immune cells. It has regulatory roles in several physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood and memory. The key function of this system revolves around maintaining homeostasis (balance in the body).


The human body has two primary cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. These receptors help to regulate hormone and neurological-hormone activity by either enhancing or inhibiting. This enhance or inhibit process decides how other hormones and body systems are regulated. It is easy to see how the performance of so many physiological systems may rely on the ECS.


The cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1), is a G protein-coupled cannabinoid receptor. It is located primarily in the central and peripheral nervous system. CB1 is activated by the endocannabinoid neurotransmitters anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG); by plant cannabinoids, such as the compound CBD.


Cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2), a G protein-coupled receptor from the cannabinoid receptor family that in humans is encoded by the CNR2 gene. It is closely related to the cannabinoid receptor type 1, which is heavily responsible for the efficiency of endocannabinoid-mediated presynaptic-inhibition. The prominent endogenous ligand for the CB2 receptor is 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).


Although CBD has little binding affinity for either of the two cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), cannabidiol modulates several non-cannabinoid receptors and ion channels. CBD also acts through various receptor-independent pathways. It can delay the re-uptake of endogenous neurotransmitters (such as anandamide and adenosine) by enhancing or inhibiting the binding action of certain G-protein coupled receptors. Research shows that by modulating the endocannabinoid system, a number of diseases and pathological conditions may be alleviated.


There are many reasons why the body may not meet its endocannabinoid demands. Experiencing an acute or chronic stressor(s), systemic compromise, trauma, pollution and buildup of internal toxins are some examples. These are all situations that could change the supply and demand needs for endocannabinoids.

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