What is the endocannabinoid system and how does it work?

What is the endocannabinoid system and how does it work

The endocannabinoid system (English. Endocannabinoid system - ESC) is the most recently discovered system in the human body. Everyone knows about the nervous or respiratory system, but who has heard of the cannabinoid system? Probably still very few, but this knowledge will probably become common knowledge soon. The ESC is made up of a multitude of receptors, which can be found basically throughout the body. If it is functioning properly, the body is in a state of equilibrium, or homeostasis. As the ESC system is a relatively recent discovery, research is still ongoing into how it works and what functions it performs in the body. 

What is the enocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system is like a network of receptors scattered throughout the body, which take an active part in many physiological processes taking place in the human body. They therefore influence, for example, the body's energy balance, motor activity, mood, motivation, energy use, feelings of hunger and satiety and many other functions. All thanks to the fact that its receptors are found in the brain, bones, lungs, nervous and reproductive systems, fat tissue, muscles, etc. 

The composition of the endocannabinoid system includes: 

  • Cannabinoid receptors - or cell membrane proteins. This is a group of receptors that are coupled to G proteins. As of today, two types of receptors are known: CB1 and CB2. Although it cannot be ruled out that there are more. 
    CB1 receptors They are mainly distributed in the brain, mainly in the amygdala and hypothalamus, areas responsible for memory, emotions and appetite control. They are also found in the nerve endings of the central nervous system, where their role is responsible for the sensation of pain. In addition, they are distributed in adipose tissue, liver, skeletal muscles and many other organs.
    CB2 receptors - are primarily found in the immune system and their role is, for example, to stimulate the immune system to eliminate inflammation.
  • Endocannabinoids - The term comes from the Greek endo - within and the Latin name for hemp - Cannabis sativa. These are compounds that are produced by both the human and animal body. They are neurotransmitters that are responsible for activating cannabinoid receptors. These include 2-Arachidonylglycerol (2-AG) and Anandamide (also known as AEA). Research on endocannabinoids has shown that they are actively involved in a previously unknown system of communication between neurons. Scientists speculate that once these processes are fully understood, then there is a chance for natural and effective treatments, for pain, anxiety, nausea, obesity and even brain damage and many other disease entities and ailments. 
  • Enzymes - are associated with the biosynthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids. They are responsible, for example, for their destruction after they have already been used by the body.  

Functions of the cannabinoid system

The cannabinoid system, although the latest discovered and least understood, is one of the key physiological systems of every mammal, including humans. It was first discovered and described by Professor Raphael Mechoulam, who, together with his colleagues, isolated cannabinoids from hashish in 1964. Research on ESCs is still being carried out on a large scale around the world today, but many of us only heard about the cannabinoid system during the fight to allow the use of medical marijuana, which incidentally became legal in Poland (under many conditions). 

We learned about the many functions the ESC performs in the body, such as regulating and controlling:

  • feeling pain,
  • the reward centre in the brain,
  • appetite and craving levels,
  • mood,
  • homeostasis, i.e. maintaining the biological balance of the body,
  • memory of reproductive functions and many others.

In a nutshell, it is a system that is the regulator of the human organism, a guardian, one might say, of the correct functioning of a whole host of processes that take place continuously in our body. 

What are cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are a group of organic chemical compounds that interact with cannabinoid receptors. Before it was discovered that the human body contains a cannabinoid system with its endocannabinoids, it was thought that these substances were only found in cannabis. New discoveries have given rise to the division of this group of compounds into:

  • endocannabinoids - i.e. those found in the bodies of all mammals, including humans,
  • plant cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) - which occur as plant alkaloids, such as: 
  1. tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is an organic chemical compound from the cannabinoid group. It is an isomer of cannabidiol and the main psychoactive substance contained in cannabis. 
  2. cannabinol (CBN), which is also an organic chemical compound, but its psychoactivity is essentially nonexistent
  3. cannabidiol (CBD), another organic chemical compound from the cannabinoid group. It is found in cannabis seeds, and most abundantly in their flowers. Unlike its isomer, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it does not have a psychoactive effect, but nullifies its intoxicating properties 
  • synthetic cannabinoids - which are man-made. 

Plant cannabinoids are not soluble in water, but only in fats, alcohols and other non-polar organic solvents. 

How CBD oil works on the cannabinoid system

The effect of cannabidiol (CBD) on the endocannabinoid system is an extremely complex, non-obvious issue that is still being studied by many scientists around the world. Interestingly, CBD has little direct effect on CB1 and CB2 receptors, resulting in weak binding of the receptors to cannabinoid molecules. The receptors bind much more readily to THC (if CBD and THC are given simultaneously). Scientific studies have shown that CBD is a potent negative allosteric modulator for the CB1 receptor. Its effect is strongest in the presence of THC. Studies have unequivocally shown that CBD has a mitigating effect on the psychotic effects of THC. As for CB2, these receptors are involved in inflammation. CBD (unlike THC, which stimulates these receptors) has the power to attenuate this receptor response. This is why one of the properties CBD oil is the anti-inflammatory effect. 

However, the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on the cannabinoid system are only a fraction of the positive effects of CBD oil on the body. The spectrum of hemp's beneficial effects on the human body is much broader, and many aspects of it are still unexplored. 


  1. "Application of natural cannabinoids and endocannabinoids in therapy" Arkadiusz Kazula; Department of Animal Diseases, Institute of Veterinary Medicine, PAS.
  2. https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kannabinoidy
  3. Endocannabinoid System Acts as a Regulator of Immune Homeostasis in the Gut - PubMed https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28439004/
  4. Cannabis Pharmacology: The Usual Suspects and a Few Promising Leads - ScienceDirect https://www.sciencedirect.com


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