The Endocannabinoid System Explained

While you may already be familiar with cannabidiol (CBD), you may not be as aware of the fascinating science behind how it interacts with systems in the human body.

CBD (and all other cannabinoids in hemp) rely on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to produce the desired effects that people who consume CBD are looking for. This is because the ECS contains receptors that interact with endocannabinoids and cannabinoids. 

This ECS is a complex system that plays a critical role in keeping our bodies healthy and running smoothly (aka alive). Given its importance, it hasn’t been getting nearly as much credit as it deserves! 

Below you’ll learn how the ECS system works, how it regulates bodily functions, and why you should use CBD to support the ECS in doing its highly underappreciated job. 

Endocannabinoid System Definition

The ECS is a cell-signaling biological system in the body that plays a role in maintaining homeostasis – or the body’s stable operating state.

It was accidentally discovered by a chemist in the 1990s while they were researching (tetrahydrocannabinol) THC. Since then, researchers have been working to understand it further. 

There is still a lot to learn about how the ECS functions but it seems that the ECS plays a big role in keeping our bodies balanced and healthy. It also regulates sleep, mood, appetite, memory, reproduction, and fertility. 

Endocannabinoid System 101 

The ECS is made up of three main components including endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. 


Endocannabinoids are produced in your body naturally and they interact with the ECS similarly to cannabinoids. They play an important role in many bodily functions because they transmit messages from one cell to another.

Because your body produces endocannabinoids on its own, the ECS is actually working hard behind the scenes for you even if you don’t use CBD, THC, or other cannabinoids! 

To date, scientists have identified two key endocannabinoids called anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Your body produces both as needed to keep your body functioning at an optimal level. Endocannabinoid receptors play a critical role in this process too. 

Endocannabinoid Receptors

The ECS has two main endocannabinoid receptors. Endocannabinoid System CB1 and CB2 receptors (also known as CB receptors or cannabinoid receptors). 

CB1 receptors are primarily found in the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS regulates coordination, memory, pain, mood, and other critical daily functions that keep us all going.

CB2 receptors are located in the peripheral nervous system and,are typically associated with the immune system and inflammatory responses. 

Endocannabinoids can bind to either type of receptor. For example, endocannabinoids might bind to CB1 receptors in the brain or spine to relieve nerve pain or to CB2 receptors to reduce inflammation. 

Essentially, endocannabinoids are microscopic bodyguards that keep your body running well. Once they’ve done their job, enzymes will break the endocannabinoids down. The two enzymes that break them down are fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA, and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which breaks down 2-AG. 

THC and the Endocannabinoid System

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most prevalent cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It is the compound responsible for the “high” feeling associated with marijuana.

When you take THC, it binds to the ECS receptors the same way the naturally occurring endocannabinoids do. THC can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors which is why THC can reduce pain and make you hungry at the same time.

CBD and the Endocannabinoid System

Cannabidiol (CBD), is the second most prevalent cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Many scientists believe CBD prevents endocannabinoids from breaking down so quickly, allowing them time to have a greater impact on your body. 

Like endocannabinoids, cannabinoids work by interacting with receptors in the body. Researchers believe that CBD does not directly attach to these receptors, but stimulates them in some way. Others believe that CBD binds to a third receptor that has yet to be discovered. 

Based on the theory that CBD stimulates receptors and aids your ECS in regulating your body, the endocannabinoid system and CBD may work together to provide therapeutic benefits and improve well-being.

While more research is needed, current findings suggest that CBD has many positive benefits like reducing pain, improving memory and focus, easing nausea, supporting sleep, and calming nerves.

Interestingly, all mammals, birds, reptiles, and even fish have endocannabinoid systems too! For this reason, research is also underway to understand how pet-friendly CBD products may help our furry friends with animal-specific concerns like anxiety and joint pain. 

Endocannabinoid Deficiency

Certain medical experts support a theory called clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). CECD suggests that low cannabinoid levels may lead to the development of migraines, fibromyalgia, anxiety, inflammation, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and other chronic conditions. 

Researchers suspect people with certain conditions may have either an endocannabinoid deficiency or issues with their ECS receptors. This is because a physically healthy person should be able to produce enough endocannabinoids to bring their body back to its balanced state when needed.

It is also suspected that endocannabinoid production decreases as we age. Less endocannabinoid production means that the body may struggle to stay regulated without the help of prescription, over-the-counter, or natural interventions. 

If the CECD theory is correct, CBD and/or THC supplementation may help regulate imbalances. This is because THC and CBD consumption may help replace the shortage of anandamide and 2-AG to promote well-being!


The endocannabinoid system plays an important role in keeping our bodies in balance. Quality CBD products may work with our ECS and endocannabinoid receptors to reduce stress, support sleep, help with pain, and even lower inflammation!

Research continues in an effort to further understand the ECS and how CBD and THC may assist the ECS in regulating the bodily functions of people and pets. 

Shop With Salt Leaf Hemp 

If you are interested in seeing if CBD can improve your well-being, we offer a large selection of high-quality CBD products for you to try. Browse our shop for a variety of CBD tinctures, teas, topicals, and so much more! 

We also help CBD businesses get up and running in 5 days or less! Ask us about white-labeling your CBD products or check out the simple steps to get your first order going! 

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