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The Endocannabinoid System Explained

March 12, 2024

Beyond giggles and munchies, there’s an entire universe of chemistry and science going on inside our bodies when we consume cannabis.

As it turns out, we have a built-in system called the endocannabinoid system that plays a key role in what we experience when we use cannabis.

This powerful system affects how we experience life, from mood regulation to sleep modulation.

Ready to learn how this fascinating system shapes your experience with cannabis?

Let’s dive in!

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a complex cell signaling network within the body. It helps your body regulate your mood, appetite, sleep cycles, memory, and reproductive system. And in cannabis science, the ECS is extremely important.

Many people assume that the endocannabinoid system is directly related to cannabis, but it’s not.

Have you never smoked weed before?

Doesn’t matter.

You still have cannabinoids throughout your body.

The ECS exists independently of cannabis—an important point to remember.

What Does It Do?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) works as a big network throughout your body, and it is responsible for keeping things balanced and operating smoothly.

The system uses endocannabinoids to send special signals that your body makes. They can attach to special spots called receptors, binding to them, and when they do, they help control how you feel, how hungry you get, and even how much pain you feel.

Think of it as a symphony, with each cannabinoid playing its part in keeping your body healthy, happy, and satiated.

How Does Cannabis Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?

Because the ECS uses receptors and molecules to operate, when cannabis enters the picture, the landscape within the body changes.

Cannabis interacts with the ECS through cannabinoids, of which THC and CBD are the most well-known.

However, the way in which cannabis interacts with the body’s ECS is dependent on the type of cannabis used, your own physical chemistry, and overall health.

While cannabis research is still ongoing, we still don’t know everything about how cannabis interacts and affects the ECS.

How Do You Know If You Have an Endocannabinoid Deficiency?

It is important to understand that endocannabinoid deficiency ECD is not a widely accepted medical diagnosis.

There is ongoing research exploring the potential link between a dysfunctional endocannabinoid system (ECS) and certain medical conditions. Still, there is no definitive test to diagnose ECD.

We highly recommend not self-diagnosing yourself with any illness because some signs of a so-called “deficiency” are related to other symptoms. Consult with a qualified healthcare professional if you’re experiencing any concerning symptoms.

How Does CBD affect the Endocannabinoid System?

Unlike THC, CBD (cannabidiol) interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) more subtly and indirectly. While the exact mechanisms are still being unraveled, here is what the research shows us:

Indirectly Affecting CB1 Receptors—CBD doesn’t directly bind to the main CB1 receptors like THC, but it might indirectly influence their activity. Some research suggests that it binds to a different site on the receptor, subtly altering its response to other molecules, including natural endocannabinoids.

Preventing Endocannabinoid Breakdown—CBD is believed to inhibit enzymes, particularly fatty acid amide hydrolase(FAAH), which is responsible for breaking down the body’s natural endocannabinoids like anandamide. The result is that the natural molecules linger longer and could amplify the ECS’s effects.

Interacts with Other Molecules—CBD also interacts with other receptors in the body, including the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor. This interaction might contribute to a potential therapeutic effectfor conditions such as depression and anxiety. However, the mechanisms are still being researched.

How Does THC Affect the ECS?

THC, if you’re unfamiliar, is the psychoactive compound in cannabis that gets you “high.” This compound interacts with the ECS more directly. It does this by imitating the body’s natural endocannabinoid and binding to specific receptors.

So, as THC mimics the body’s natural endocannabinoids, it can fit into and activate cannabinoid receptors in the ECS, like the CB1 receptors that we find throughout our nervous system and brain.

After binding to these receptors, THC causes some helpful chaos in the signaling process. Researchers believe this is responsible for the ‘high’ feeling you get from smoking or consuming THC from cannabis.

Interestingly, though, THC can also bind with other systems and receptors like:

Dopamine system—Increased dopamine is released throughout the reward system, which could potentially make cannabis seem more addictive.
CB2 receptors—These are most commonly found in your immune system, and any binding here could contribute to anti-inflammatory properties.

Varying Results

Keep in mind that the amount of THC in the cannabis you consume creates the results you experience.


The higher the THC concentration, the more you feel its effects.

Your Chemistry

Your body makeup also affects how your ECS processes THC.

Consumption Method

Smoking or vaping leads to faster onset effects of THC in the ECS.

Presence of other Cannabinoids

Products containing other cannabinoids, such as CBD, also alter the effects of THC on the ECS.

What Other Animals Have an Endocannabinoid System?

One cool thing about the endocannabinoid system is that it is a shared system across the animal kingdom, not only found within humans.

In fact, the ECS has been tracked back to early evolutionary stages. However, how the ECS is present in different animalscan vary depending on the species.

The receptors and molecules involved might differ in their characteristics and interactions, leading to diverse effects within the animal.

How do Different Strains of Cannabis Affect the ECS

While different strains can have varying effects on the body and mind, their impact on the endocannabinoid system is determined by the cannabinoid profile of the specific strain.

The factors of each strain that influence the overall effect on the ECS are:

THC: As we’ve discussed, THC directly affects the CB1 receptors, causing psychoactive effects.
CBD: Doesn’t directly bind to the CB1 receptor but does interact with the ECS in other ways, like breaking down endocannabinoids and affecting CB1 receptor activity. Potentially influencing how THC is processed in the body.
CBN: It binds to them less readily than THC. However, some research indicates that it can interact with pain receptors in the body.
Terpenes: Terpenes are most well-known for being responsible for the flavor and scent of cannabis, but they also interact with the ECS and help create the entourage effect.
Consumption Method: The onset of effects from cannabis is directly related to the consumption method, which in turn affects how the ECS experiences cannabinoids.

Understanding the Endocannabinoid Experience

The Endocannabinoid system (ECS) is critical to your body’s internal balance. Cannabis interacts with this system in profound and nuanced ways.

Whether you want pain relief or are interested in recreational pleasure, cannabis compounds bounce and bind with the ECS to give you what you’re looking for.

And as cannabis science continues to grow, there are new and more promising insights revealed, opening new doors to treatment options and more.

Ready to experience cannabis’ effect on your body’s ECS? Visit BlueOak Dispensary in person and discuss your questions and concerns with our team.

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