Just like the digestive, immune, and cardiovascular systems, everyone has an endocannabinoid system.

There's a good chance you haven't heard of this system before because it was only recently discovered in the 90s, but it's been evolving within us and every other animal for millions of years. This very complex system is not yet entirely understood, but new research is starting to shed light on how it works. 

What does your Endocannabinoid System do? 

Your endocannabinoid system (ECS) keeps all your other systems in balance with one another as you encounter daily stress.  It's made up of a series of cannabinoid receptors embedded all over your body including in your brain, all of your organs, connective tissues, immune cells, and more.

Diagram for visualizing how the endocannabinoid system works; of neurotransmitters crossing from the presynaptic terminal of one cell to the post-synaptic terminal of another cell

Your body naturally produces two endo-cannabinoids of its own called Anandamide and 2-AG to stimulate these receptors and support the function of your ECS. On a scientific level, these cannabinoids help neurotransmitters cross from the presynaptic terminal of one cell to the postsynaptic terminal of another cell at a balanced, healthy rate. In layman’s terms, cannabinoids help your body communicate more effectively with itself.

We like to think of cannabinoids as guards who will allow children to safely cross the street when the time is right. The kids can probably reach the other side on their own, but with the extra help of cannabinoids, they arrive when it's appropriate for them to do so — and there's much less stress in the process. 

How does cannabis support your ECS? 

Cannabis produces phyto-cannabinoids that also stimulate our ECS's cannabinoid receptors. This means that if you have an endo-cannabinoid deficiency, you can use cannabis as a cannabinoid supplement. Researchers are now proposing that many diseases such as migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowl syndrome, and more may stem from a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency. 

Watercolor illustration of a banana and cannabis leaf for visualizing how cannabinoids are a nutrient just like potassium

Think of cannabinoids as you would any other nutrient. If you're deficient in potassium, your doctor may tell you to eat more bananas. If you're deficient in cannabinoids, you can consume more cannabis. 

Understanding the difference between how CBD and THC work

Although all cannabinoids interact with our endocannabinoid system, not all cannabinoids produce the same effects.

 

Watercolor illustration of a brain Watercolor illustration of a female body 
THC binds to receptors primarily found in the brain and central nervous system, creating the intoxicating experiences or "high" that many people associate with cannabis use.
Cannabinoids like CBD, on the other hand, won’t get you “high” when ingested its main function is slowing the breakdown of our own endocannabinoids so that our bodies can use more of what they’re naturally producing. Products with only these non-intoxicating cannabinoids can still provide many health benefits of cannabis without an altered state of mind.

 

Although certain conditions are better treated by specific compounds, current science suggests that the cannabinoids work best when used in harmony with one another. This is known as the entourage effect. 

The ECS works at every level to bring balance to the body.

When used properly, cannabis is one of the most versatile medicines on the planet because it helps the body help itself. Read more about your endocannabinoid system here. 

Did you learn something new? Please remember to share it with someone you care about! Download our FREE printable handout here.

 

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to neuroscientist Dr. Adie Poe of Habu Health for providing her insight on this topic and fact checking its accuracy. Be sure to follow her (Facebook & Instagram) to stay up to date on her latest, ground-breaking research on how cannabis can lower the use of opioids! 

Big thank you to Kira G. for all of her research that went into making this article a reality! 

 

This article was written by Kristen Williams & Kira G. and published on January 31, 2017. Copyright © 2017 Hempsley, All Rights Reserved

Kristen Williams