The Endocannabinoid System | How Cannabis Works

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a molecular signaling system that affects virtually every physiological process in the body.

The name is derived from two words, endogenous – originating from within the body, and cannabinoid – any substance that can produce physiological and psychological effects similar to those by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive substance found in Cannabis sativa.

Thus, the ECS is your body’s own natural source of THC-mimicking substances called endocannabinoids. Anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) are two primary endocannabinoids.
They exert their varied physiological effects by acting on specific identification sites called cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), which are present throughout the body.


What are the essential functions of the Endocannabinoid System at the basic level?

If you think the ECS affects only your brain function, think again.

In fact, the ECS has numerous functions that range from regulation of memory to the development of embryo, and fine-tuning of adaptive structural changes in the brain cells to controlling the formation of cancer cells.

Other notable functions include the regulation of pain, immune function, inflammation, and neuroprotection.
In simple words, the essential functions of the ECS can be summarized as:

  • Relax
  • Eat
  • Sleep
  • Forget
  • Protect

A growing body of evidence suggests a potential between an imbalance in the ECS and the development of a host of diseases. These include:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Neurodegenerative disorders. For example, multiple sclerosis (MS), Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
  • Liver disease such as cirrhosis
  • Anxiety disorders like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Autism
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Migraine
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic motion sickness

What are some natural ways to boost the Endocannabinoid system?

It is essential to maintain an optimal balance of the ECS to keep our body healthy. Many studies have noted that you can boost the ECS through a healthy diet and lifestyle.

The following list consists of the science-backed natural ways to boost the ECS.

  • REST Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique aka Floating
  • Stress-reduction techniques such as acupuncture and manual therapy.
  • Exercise. Any type of physical activity can help maintain the balance of the ECS. In addition, exercise also reduces stress and facilitates weight loss. Note that that both stress and obesity are preventable risk factors for dysfunctional ECS.
  • Sex. There is a bidirectional relation between sexual activity and the ECS. Sex can be a potent natural booster for the ECS while healthy ECS can boost sexual arousal.
  • Probiotics that are naturally found in fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi. You may opt for a probiotic supplement if you take too little probiotic-rich foods.

How does CBD effect pain within the Endocannabinoid Signaling System?

CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing substance with no euphoria-like side effects. A 2018 study shows that taking CBD could be a safe natural alternative for managing chronic pain. In fact, similar other studies also suggest the same. It is suggested that CBD exerts its pain-reducing effects primarily by two mechanisms.

First, it blocks the pain signaling pathway and boosts the ECS. Keep in mind that endocannabinoids are themselves a powerful pain reliever.

Second, it reduces inflammation. Because inflammation is a major cause of the pain, the anti-inflammatory activity of CBD undoubtedly helps reduce the degree of the pain.

Recently, newer studies have found that CBD also promotes signaling of the adenosine receptor A2A, which can contribute to its anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity.

How does THC help manage pain?

Unlike CBD, THC is a more potent painkiller and hence works faster than CBD. In healthy individuals, THC is as effective as Promethazine (a sedative used in chronic pain patients) and more effective than Paracetamol.

THC works on the cannabinoid receptors similar to endocannabinoids, and regulates the release of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Moreover, it also alters the sensory perception of the pain.

THC has shown a promising effect in relieving muscles spasm. Human experiments show that patients taking THC reportedly have fewer signs and symptoms of spasticity.

What is the best ratio of CBD to THC to help manage pain & what are the best strains for pain?

Experts recommend a combination of CBD and THC to treat pain. They say, though THC is powerful, its effects tend to wane earlier. On the other hand, the effects of less potent CBD generally last longer. Therefore, using a combination makes a sense for better and longer pain control. The big question is how much CBD and THC make the perfect combination.

Well, finding a concrete answer may not be an easy task. Even so, most experts suggest using CBD and THC in the ratio 1:1 for maximum benefits.

Finding the best strains for pain is another daunting task. It is because the choice of the best strain depends on the type and severity of the pain. For example, treating back pain and migraine are not the same. Thus, it is critically important that you choose a strain based on your individual needs and the response to the particular strain.

How does CBD help with Anxiety?

If you fear speaking in front of a mass of people, CBD could be your savior.

Research has shown that taking CBD before an anxiety-inducing situation such as public speaking could boost confidence and reduce the subjective and objective symptoms of anxiety. CBD acts on certain brain areas that are associated with anxiety such as limbic and paralimbic brain areas.

According to the researchers, CBD impairs the brain responses that cause anxiety in specific brain areas called the amygdala and cingulate cortex.