Skip to main content

What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

If you’ve begun incorporating hemp-derived CBD into your wellness routine or natural skincare regimen, you already know the benefits CBD can have on your mind, mood, body and skin. But you may be fascinated to learn how CBD effects us on a cellular level.

That falls to the endocannabinoid system—or ECS—a cell-signaling system in the body that governs critical bodily functions. Get to know your endocannabinoid system and all it does for you—and how CBD works to support its fascinating functions.

The history of the endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system is a relatively “new” discovery. It was identified in the early 1990s when researchers were exploring tetrahydrocannabinol (known more commonly as THC), one of the many cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant, and the cannabinoid most closely associated with the psychoactive effects of marijuana.

Scientists discovered that cannabinoid receptors exist naturally on the surface of cells within the human body. The two most prevalent cannabinoid receptors in the body were identified as CB1—found in the brain and throughout the body— and CB2, discovered mostly in the immune and gastrointestinal systems.

According to , “In 1992, a naturally occurring substance in the brain that binds to CB1 was discovered, called anandamide. This cannabinoid-like chemical and others that were later discovered are referred to as endocannabinoids.”

How does the endocannabinoid system work?

Because the endocannabinoid system is still being studied, we are still learning the intricacies of how it works within our bodies. However, we do know that the ECS is active within each of us, whether or not we use CBD or other cannabinoids. In fact, your endocannabinoid system is busy right this moment
helping to bring your brain, endocrine and immune systems to balance, or homeostasis. In real-world terms, that means the ECS helps to regulate mood, appetite, sleep, reproduction, fertility and memory.

It’s also been linked to motor control, pain and inflammation, muscle formation, liver function, stress, skin and nerve functions and even bone growth—all processes involved in homeostasis.

“It is present nearly everywhere in the human body and functions by maintaining the homeostasis of the human body (Alger, 2013). This is achieved through a negative feedback loop which works by the activation of a postsynaptic neuron synthesizing and releasing the endocannabinoids as they target various cannabinoid (CB) receptors,” according to the Journal of Young Investigators.

Endocannabinoids are molecules that are similar to cannabinoids found in cannabis plants, but are made instead by our ECS. Two have been identified: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). They bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors to directly influence incoming signals, and alert our endocannabinoid system that it needs to take action. This action may involve the pleasure that comes from eating chocolate after a craving, dulling physical pain or even calming inflammation throughout the body.

How does CBD work within the endocannabinoid system?

While this is a field still being studied, research has shown that CBD works differently within the ECS than THC, which is believed to bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors like endocannabinoids do. Instead, according to Healthline, many researchers “believe it works by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down. This allows them to have more of an effect on your body. Others believe that CBD binds to a receptor that hasn’t been discovered yet.”

“While the research is still in relative infancy stages, we know the positive effects we enjoy from integrating CBD into our wellness and skincare routines,” says Sarah Mirsini, founder of MASK CBD Skincare.

“This is such an exciting time to be a part of the hemp-derived CBD and cannabis industries, because the positive accolades and anecdotes from our customers just keep on coming. Still, we look forward to the continued research around the endocannabinoid system and how CBD interacts within it. We can’t wait to see what the science bears out. Until then, we will continue to enjoy the benefits of CBD on a daily basis.”

However you enjoy full-spectrum CBD in your life, one thing is for sure: As scientific research continues to reveal more about the endocannabinoid system and how cannabinoids like CBD work within it, our fascination with this system of the body and cannabis compounds will only continue to grow.