Endocannabinoid system

Endocannabinoid system

CBD and cannabinoids owe an effect mainly to the interaction with the endocannabinoid system, the ECS. You’ll learn what that is here.

endocannabinoid system explained with cb1 and cb2 receptors and the effect on the body.


Despite the fact that the ECS is a relevant biological system in the human body, its discovery did not occur until 1992. The Israeli chemist Raphael Mechoulam discovered the ECS through his attempts to isolate cannabinoids from cannabis. The discovery of cannabinoids in the plant led to the realization that we have a system on which the cannabinoids exert an effect. Through his isolation of THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol), Mechoulam discovered the endogenous cannabinoid anandamide.

Research showed that humans produce their own cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) that act on the body’s own system. This also led to the recognition of exogenous cannabinoids. These include
that produce an effect on the ECS as externally supplied substances.


The ECS got its name from the chemical compounds that act on the system. These are the cannabinoids. Here the “endo-” stands for “endogenous”. Endogenous refers to anything that happens within the body. Endocannabinoids are thereby cannabinoids that are produced within the body, such as anandamide.

The endocannabinoid system is located throughout the body and consists of receptors where cannabinoids dock. Receptors in general are large proteins that enable signal transduction by docking various compounds. These signals are further converted into physical reactions in the body.

That’s where the “endo” comes from, in the sense of “endogenous.”

The exogenous cannabinoids are then the compounds that are not endogenous to the body and are supplied “externally”. These include the approximately 80 cannabinoids detected in the cannabis plant. These are structurally very similar with the endogenous cannabinoids and exert an effect on the ECS.


The ECS is a system that works both physiologically and neurologically. It ensures that homeostasis (i.e. balance) is established and maintained throughout the body. This explains, for example, why we find more endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, peripheral organs, glands and immune cells. More in detail under “Mode of action”.

The endocannabinoid system represents an endogenous regulatory system that, in addition to its function in the central nervous system (CNS), also exerts an influence on the immune system. It is also involved in apoptosis (programmed cell death). It therefore plays an overall important role in the recovery process of the cells.

Also not only humans have an ECS. Mammals, among others, have it, with systems that developed over the course of evolution over 600 million years.

Thus, it can be inferred that the ECS is an important function in overall well-being. It may play an important role in the balance between mind and body. Without the ECS, other systems related to the ECS would be out of balance. The functionality of the ECS is essential for a healthy and happy life.

Compared to the reproductive, nervous or circulatory systems, the ECS is a young field of research and requires further investigation.

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Mode of action

The ECS consists of two currently known receptors, namely CB1 and CB2. There would probably be many more, but they have not yet been identified.

  • – CB1 receptors are mainly present on neurons (nerve cells). The largest cluster of CB1 receptors is located in the brain.
  • – CB2 receptors are particularly localized on cells of the immune system. These were detected on B cells, NK cells, monocytes and on other cells of the immune system.

The endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG (2-arachidonylglycerol) are full agonists at both receptors. That is, both trigger signal flow from the ECS to the proteins. Plant cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) have an effect on our bodies because the ECS can “read” the substances due to their similarity to endocannabinoids.

THC is a phytocannabinoid and acts as an agonist partially at both receptors.

And how does CBD affect the ECS?

CBD is also a phytocannabinoid and has an effect on the ECS. CBD may have many psychological and physiological influences on the body and organs that go far beyond the ECS. If interested, here is a listing of the
Effects of CBD

Research shows that CBD does not have a direct effect on the receptors, but instead causes the endocannabinoid 2-AG to be released in greater quantities. The 2-AG provides, among other things, pain relief and the strengthening of nerve cells and bones. CBD also slows down the natural decomposition of the endocannabinoid anandamide. This is also responsible for pain relief and wound healing. Structurally, anandamide is very similar to THC in that they dock to the same receptors, but about 10x weaker.

Thus, it can be stated that CBD supports the ECS in their natural function. Quite the opposite of THC, which is able to dock and produce effects on its own. This is probably one of the main reasons why you don’t get “high” from CBD.

It has been found that added cannabinoids act over a longer period of time compared to endogenous endocannabinoids. Thus, CBD is a possible solution to strengthen the ECS in phases.

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Animal experiments have shown promising results in the treatment of nervous and gastrointestinal diseases. Hopes exist that new cures may emerge from CB1 or CB2 agonists. Targeted interventions in the ECS are possible using exogenous cannabinoids (such as CBD). The challenge here, however, lies in the close cooperation between immune research, neurology and pharmacology.