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If you’ve ever wondered what exactly is going on within the body that causes a physiological and mental response to cannabis, you are not alone. In fact, this very question led chemist Raphael Mechoulam to discover the endocannabinoid system in the early 1990s. 

So what exactly is the endocannabinoid system, and what does it have to do with cannabinoids such as CBD? Read on to find out with The Brothers Apothecary.

What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system (also known as the ECS or EC system) is a complex messaging system within the human body, creating a way for various cells, neurons, and neurotransmitters like dopamine to communicate with each other.

The endocannabinoid system is made up of endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body in hormone-releasing glands, the brain, and tissues. 

These three components work together to regulate the body, promote homeostasis, and respond to various irregularities. 

What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?

Think of the endocannabinoid as a backup system your body relies on when it senses your internal equilibrium is out of whack. Our bodies have a normal range of functions, and when something strays outside that typical range, the endocannabinoid system is alerted to bring in additional support. 

Picture this: You are experiencing soreness in your joints. This deviation from equilibrium will kick your endocannabinoid system into gear. From there, your body will produce naturally occurring cannabinoids (known as endocannabinoids), and they’ll bind to the cannabinoid receptors that exist on the surfaces of numerous cells. 

These receptors will help transport the endocannabinoids to the part of the body in need of relief (more on the specifics of this system later!). After the endocannabinoids have provided support, enzymes will break them down. 

And joint soreness is far from the only thing that awakens your endocannabinoid system! The endocannabinoid system is used to regulate a plethora of bodily functions and can aid in digestive health, mood, memory, and discomfort relief. 

Digestive Health

The gut is home to cannabinoid receptors. When endocannabinoids bind to these receptors, the ECS can stimulate appetite and help support the movement of stomach muscles during food intake. This process assists with the absorption of nutrients and keeps the digestive tract healthy. 

The ECS also helps the stomach and brain communicate with each other, which can be useful in soothing any physical effects of stress that we may experience in the gastrointestinal tract. 

Cognitive Function and Mood Regulation

The existence of cannabinoid receptors in the brain means that the endocannabinoid system can support your mental wellbeing. The endocannabinoid anandamide is produced within the brain. 

When it attaches to receptors, it can reduce stress levels and feelings of anxiety and contribute to the healthy regulation of mood, memory, and sleep.

Immune Responses

There are two main types of cannabinoid receptors: Cb1 receptors and Cb2 receptors

While Cb1 receptors mainly exist in the central nervous system, cb2 cells are more commonly found in the immune cells that make up the peripheral nervous system. It is through these cb2 receptors that the ECS can help communicate when something is off in the immune system and bring to those immune cells endocannabinoids in response.

Muscle and Bone Growth

Researchers have found evidence that Cb1 receptors exist within our skeletal muscle system, allowing the ECS to help regulate this system and aid in growth.

Studies have also shown that skin cells are full of cannabinoid receptors, meaning that the ECS also supports healthy skin growth and repair, which sheds light on why CBD is such a powerful ingredient in skincare products.

Nerve Function and Pain Signals

The endocannabinoid system plays a key role in pain sensation, as it is used throughout all four steps of the pain processing pathway. When nerve cells send pain messages to the brain, endocannabinoids are created to help regulate and provide relief to the source of discomfort. 

How Do You Strengthen Your Endocannabinoid System?

Scientists have discovered numerous ways to boost your endocannabinoid system. Engaging in exercise can produce more endocannabinoids (think about a runner’s high!) while also lowering health risks, as does eating foods heavy in fatty acids, such as salmon, walnuts, or eggs. 

Dark chocolate, truffles, and herbs are a few other foods known to strengthen the endocannabinoid system

What Are Endocannabinoids and Cannabinoids?

As you’ve now learned, the endocannabinoid system can work without introducing external or synthetic cannabinoids because our bodies already have their own synthesis of cannabinoids

These are referred to as endocannabinoids, as they are created internally (fun fact: the prefix “endo” actually means “inner”). The main two endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG), both of which are short-lasting molecules produced on an as-needed basis. 

External cannabinoids, on the other hand, include the ones you are likely already familiar with: THC and CBD. These cannabinoids are what make up the cannabis plant. Once they enter the body, they are able to interact with the endocannabinoids and receptors already at work within the endocannabinoid system.

THC is thought to bind with cb1 and cb2 receptors just as endocannabinoids do, sending a further boost throughout the ECS to respond to irregularities and bring added relief to some of the physiological symptoms we may be feeling. CBD also plays a role within the endocannabinoid system, but not in quite the same way.

How Does CBD Impact the Endocannabinoid System?

Scientists have found that CBD doesn’t actually bind the cb1 and cb2 receptors like endocannabinoids and THC do. Instead, CBD is believed to help slow the break-down process of endocannabinoids. There is also a theory that CBD binds with receptors that are yet to be discovered. 

So while there is still much more to learn about the endocannabinoid system, we do know that whether you are hoping to boost your mood or improve your sleep, CBD will partner with your naturally occurring endocannabinoids to enhance and prolong their effects on your wellbeing. 

What Causes the Release of Endocannabinoids?

The body is able to produce endocannabinoids on demand when they are needed. These endocannabinoids have a unique ability to move through plasma membranes. After they are created, they are released from neuronal membranes and then move through the body and attach to the cannabinoid receptors that will best target the source of irregularity. 

Endocannabinoids are fragile molecules, and so they are easily broken back down into their compounds by enzymes within our nerve cells. CBD’s ability to slow that break-down process can play an essential role in providing extra relief when our internal balance is off. 


As scientists continue their research in this field, we at The Brothers Apothecary are excitedly awaiting the next endocannabinoid system discovery. Now’s the time to live better, knowing your body is already equipped with the tools needed to maintain balance and respond to lapses in equilibrium. In addition, incorporating high-quality CBD products into the ECS can further enhance the incredible effects of endocannabinoids already at play. 



Dr Raphael Mechoulam and his revolutionary cannabis research | Health Europa

The CB2 receptor and its role as a regulator of inflammation | Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

Cannabinoid Signaling in the Skin: Therapeutic Potential of the “C(ut)annabinoid” System | PubMed 

Endocannabinoids and exercise | British Journal of Sports Medicine 

Jesse Richardson, Health & Wellness Advocate
Ambassador of Teas, CEO

Jesse Richardson is the co-founder of The Brothers Apothecary. He's an avid tea drinker and the primary creator behind The Brothers' products. An undergraduate of UCLA for Political Science, Jesse currently studies Medicinal Plants at Cornell University and The International School of Herbal Arts & Sciences.

Meet the Brothers.

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