The endocannabinoid system (ECS) was named after the plant that led to its discovery. It is a complex cell-signaling system identified in the early 1990s by researchers exploring THC, a well-known cannabinoid. The ECS is a very complex regulatory system, found in humans and almost all animals, even including fish. ECS is involved in the regulation of many functions and processes, including:
  • sleep
  • stress
  • mood
  • cognition
  • memory
  • psychometric behaviour
  • digestion
  • inflammation and other immune system responses
  • pain
  • thermoregulation
  • neural development
  • neuroprotection
  • cardiovascular function
  • metabolism
  • appetite regulation
  • reproduction and fertility
  • muscle formation
  • bone remodelling and growth
  • liver function
The ECS exists and is active in your body even if you don’t use cannabis. Experts are still trying to fully understand the ECS. The ECS involves three core components:
(CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system, within the brain and spinal cord. CB1 receptors are 10 times more common in the brain than opioid receptors. CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in the peripheral nervous system, especially in immune cells. CB2 receptors control the release of cytokines, which are linked to inflammation and general immune function). Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The effects that result depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to. For example, endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others might bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body’s experiencing inflammation, a common sign of autoimmune disorders. Additionally, cannabinoid receptors can be found in the cardiovascular, reproductive and skeletal systems, contributing to the regulation of blood pressure, normal reproductive function and the maintenance of bone health.
Our body produces endocannabinoids (also called endogenous cannabinoids), which are similar to cannabinoids. Experts have identified two key endocannabinoids so far: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG) Endocannabinoids keep internal functions running smoothly. The body produces them as needed, making it difficult to know what typical levels are for each.
Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function. There are two main enzymes responsible for this:
  • fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA
  • monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG

Endocannabinoid deficiency

Some experts believe in a theory known as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). This theory suggests that low endocannabinoid levels in your body or ECS dysfunction can contribute to the development of certain medical conditions, particularly related to the immune system and inflammation. Endocannabinoid scientists may suggest this theory could explain why some people develop illnesses such as migraine, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s diseases, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, IBS, menstrual symptoms, chronic motion symptoms and other chronic conditions. None of these conditions have a clear underlying cause. They’re also often resistant to treatment and sometimes occur alongside each other. However, more research is needed.