The Endocannabinoid System

Throughout our body, we have the endocannabinoid system (ECS). It is active as part of our physical make up before we are even born. It is a physiological system that has receptors spread through the body. The receptors become stimulated by chemicals that are produced naturally.

The ESC exists in the brain, organs, skeletal muscles and tissues.

It is the least studied of all the bodies systems because it ​is a more recent discovery. It was found in ​1992​, when the first endocannabinoid was discovered. Anandamide was the first, naturally occurring endogenous cannabinoid, or endocannabinoid discovered. It was found by Raphael Mechoulam and NIMH researchers William Devane and Dr. Lumir Hanus.

The ECS forms part of the body’s natural regulatory system. The human body makes several endogenous endocannabinoids:

  •  Anandamide
  • 2AG (​2-Arachidonoylglycerol​)
  • N-Arachidonoyl dopamine NADA
  • Virodhamine (OEA)

Cannabinoid Receptors


There are two types of receptor involved in processes within the body. These are CB1 and CB2 receptors. Although they sound similar both receptors have different functions.
Between them they moderate the regulation of many functions – including pain, sensations, appetite, memory and mood.

Endocannabinoids are key components of cellular membranes that we manufacture on demand. They are hydrophobic, they cannot travel very far in the body and so they work in very specific areas.

This all occurs within our bodies and doesn’t involve introducing external chemicals. We actually manufacture the chemicals and use them all the time. The ECS has nothing at all to do with cannabis.

CB1 and CB2 Receptors

CB1 Receptors

The majority of CB1 receptors are in the central nervous system. Smaller numbers of CB1 receptors are also found in other areas of the body, such as the liver, kidneys

and lungs. CB1 plays a role in the release and production of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers). It is also involved in the fat metabolism process in the liver. Research shows CB1 plays a role in the maintenance of the body’s internal equilibrium. It maintains balance and homeostasis. Further studies on CB1 also suggested that it can influence other factors such as:

  • pleasure
  • appetite
  • concentration
  • memory
  • pain tolerance

CB2 Receptors

The CB2 receptors are part of the immune system and are also found in the bone marrow and blood cells. CB2 receptors affect a variety of other functions, such as immune suppression and apoptosis (programmed cell death).

Cannabis Plants and CBD

Cannabis plants

The cannabis plant is known for its effects on the body. This has been documented for many centuries but its effects are beyond creating a “feel good high”.
It may be that the negative connotations of the plant have slowed down our interest in understanding its other uses. Additionally it has only been recently that scientists and medical professionals became aware of the ECS.

Cannabis, Hemp, CBD and THC

Hemp​ oil is normally pressed from the seeds of the ​hemp​ plant, which means it does not contain the ​same​ number of cannabinoids found in medicinal ​cannabis ​oils which are extracted from the whole plant.

CBD oil is extracted from the flowers, leaves and stalks which contain high levels of CBD. In order to be sold in the UK any product must be able to demonstrate it contains no greater than 0.2% THC.

Cannabis plants contain a whole range of more than 100 cannabinoids. Each of these chemicals have different properties.
When introduced to the body these chemicals can have profound effects.The main types of Cannabinoids of interest currently are:

● THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)

● CBD (Cannabidiol).


THC activates both CB1 and CB2 receptors. It operates like an endogenous endocannabinoid, binding to the receptors. It acts like a key to open the receptor which is like a lock.

THC is the psychoactive compound that can make you high and is a scheduled drug in the UK. Products containing THC should not be on sale.


CBD or Cannabidiol is one of the endocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. It is classified as a nutritional supplement in the UK market meaning it is not a medicine. It is not possible to state that it impacts or treats diseases or medical conditions.

Physiological action

When introduced to the body CBD does not bind to either of these receptors. Instead it impacts in other ways. These indirect actions include activating the TRPV1 receptors working to control functions.

  • pain perception,
  • body temperature
  • inflammation


By stimulating the endocannabinoid system, CBD promotes homeostasis:

  • reduces pain sensation
  • decreases inflammation.

Modulating receptors

Cannabidiol modulates several non-cannabinoid receptors and ion channels. CBD also acts through various receptor-independent pathways. For example, by delaying the “reuptake” of the endogenous neurotransmitters, anandamide and adenosine. It also works by enhancing /inhibiting the binding action of G-protein
coupled receptors.

The action on other neurotransmitter receptors

CBD impacts the actions of other important neurotransmitter receptors.

Adenosine, glutamine and dopamine

CBD activates the adenosine receptors; the benefits can include anti-anxiety or anti-inflammatory effects.

Adenosine receptors contribute to the release of glutamate and dopamine. These two neurotransmitters play major roles inside the body.

Dopamine plays a role in reward mechanisms and motivation, motor control and cognition. While glutamate is one of the major mediators of excitatory signals. It is also involved in cognition, learning and memory.


Serotonin research shows that high concentrations of CBD can activate the serotonin receptor. (5-HT1A). Once activated, it can exert antidepressant effects. It’s also involved in other processes, which includes; pain, nausea, appetite and sleep.

Blocking Signals

Not only does CBD stimulate receptors, but it can also block them. CBD blocks the GPR55 signal, which is present in the brain.

The GPR55 signal helps with the modulation of brain density and blood pressure. It is also involved in the proliferation of cancer cells. As a result, research shows when CBD blocks the GPR55 signal, it can decrease bone resorption. And can prevent cancer cells from spreading.

Using CBD and THC together

Some people prefer products that contain both THC and CBD. Yet the benefits of CBD are still present without THC. Combining CBD and THC can be useful however, CBD can block the psychoactive action of THC. The benefits of CBD are not dependent on the presence of THC and vice versa.

The Law and CBD

The benefits of CBD have often been in the news lately. UK regulations prevent companies making any medical claims for cannabis products.