What is the Endocannabinoid System & How Does It Work?

When scientists set out to study the effects that cannabis has on the brain, they made an exciting discovery. They discovered a system within the human body that had previously been relatively unknown. It became known as the Endocannabinoid System, taking its name both from the term cannabis and its active ingredients, cannabinoids.


what is the endocannabinoid system and how does it work

But what exactly is the endocannabinoid system? There’s a lot of science-y stuff, so we’ll try and break it down into layman’s terms.

At its most basic, the endocannabinoid system is a communications system in the brain and other parts of our body. As you could imagine, this system affects many important functions. It has an impact on how one moves, feels, and reacts. It also reacts in response to the presence of cannabinoid compounds like CBD or THC.


The endocannabinoid system essentially works like the nervous system but in reverse. In the nervous system, a “message” – in the form of a type of chemical called a neurotransmitter – is released from the neurons in our brains and attaches to specific receptors on a nearby neuron. The second neuron then kicks into gear and passes the message along. These neurotransmitter chemicals are responsible for a great deal of physical and mental activities.

In the endocannabinoid system, that process is reversed. Instead of originating in the brain and traveling down through the body, cannabinoids go in the other direction. It moves up to the neurons to attach to cannabinoid receptors there. Once there, the cannabinoids are able to control what happens the next time the neurons activate. They effectively limit the amount of different neurotransmitters that a neuron can send, causing many changes in the body and mind.


CBD and cannabinoids

What makes the system an “endo”-cannabinoid system is that our bodies naturally produce neurotransmitters that are similar to CBD and other cannabinoids. Compounds we get from cannabis are called “phyto”- cannabinoids, as they come from a plant source.

A comparable analogy is how our bodies produce endorphins that are chemically similar to opiates but are much weaker. Similarly, the general consensus is that although our body creates its own endocannabinoids, it’s not as strong as phytocannabinoids. Thus, when we use cannabis, we’re creating a stronger response to something our bodies are naturally creating. This is why phytocannabinoids such as CBD is considered to have such promising medicial benefits.


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