“My What?!”

Your endocannabinoid system is alive and well in your body even if you never use cannabis – but what happens when you do?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS). The name seems complex and confusing, so let’s break it down. 

The ECS is a network of cell receptors that respond to key molecules found in cannabis. The system was first discovered in the early 1990s by researchers who were exploring THC – a well-known compound (known as cannabinoids) found in cannabis. 

The ECS involves two core components: endocannabinoids and receptors.

Endocannabinoids are similar to cannabinoids, except that they are made naturally by your body. They help keep your body running smoothly. But because your body produces them on an as-needed basis, it’s difficult to establish levels of endocannabinoids in your system at any given time.

Receptors are found throughout your body. When endocannabinoids bind it tells your ECS that it needs to take action.

There are two main endocannabinoid receptors in your body: 

CB1 receptors found in your brain and nervous system

CB2 receptors found in the peripheral nervous system and organs

Endocannabinoids are able to bind to either of these receptors, but the resulting effects vary depending on where the receptor is located.

Let’s say, for example, you suffer chronic pain. Endocannabinoids might target the CB! Receptors in your spinal cord to relieve pain. Or if you have an autoimmune disorder, the endocannabinoids might target your CB2 receptors to decrease inflammation 

So what does all of this have to do with cannabis?

Cannabis contains hundreds of natural chemical compounds – many of which possess psychoactive and therapeutic properties. 

When these compounds make their way into your blood stream, they interact with the ECS to produce effects that can support healing, wellness and symptom relief. 

THC and CBD:

 THC is the compound that gets you “high”. Once it enters your blood stream, it starts to behave like your naturally-occurring endocannabinoids. It’s especially powerful because it can bind with both CB1 and CB2 receptors. 

This allows it to have a wide range of effects on your body, some that you might like, and some you might not. It may help reduce pain, but it can also cause anxiety in some cases.

 CBD, on the other hand, is associated with more calming effects. 

 Research on how CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system is not nearly as developed as that of THC. But we do know that CBD does not bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors the way that THC does. 

 While the details are still under debate, research suggest that CBD can be helpful with pain, nausea and other symptoms.

Putting it all together!

Your ECS is involved in regulating your health, including blood pressure, immunity, inflammation, stress, neurotoxicity and digestion. It has two main receptor areas for endocannabinoids, which are produced naturally by your body as needed. The compounds in cannabis enter your blood stream and attach to these receptors – they act like endocannabinoids – but they produce varying effects.







  • Julie Lawrence is a journalist and communications specialist from Halifax, NS. She is a contributing editor for Hum@n Media - Canada's largest health and wellness media company.

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