What are endocannabinoids?

Human body endocannabinoids network

Did you know our bodies make special substances to keep us balanced? Anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG) are two key ones. They help manage our mood, appetite, and how we feel pain.

In the early 1990s, scientists found these special substances. Now, we know they are vital for making sure our body works just right. Anandamide and 2-AG play a big part in keeping us healthy and feeling well.

To understand more about endogenous cannabinoids, we should look at how they connect with our body’s receptors. These receptors, called CB1 and CB2, are key to the effects of endocannabinoids. They are found in our nervous system and in cells that help our immune system.

Scientists are very interested in the good effect endocannabinoids might have. They study how these substances can help us feel better emotionally, manage pain, remember things, and fight diseases. AEA and 2-AG do a lot to keep our body in balance.

Scientist researching endocannabinoids

Key takeaways

  • The human body produces two main endocannabinoids: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG).
  • Endogenous cannabinoids interact with cannabinoid receptors to regulate physiological processes.
  • CB1 receptors are mostly found in the central nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors are prevalent in the peripheral nervous system.
  • Endocannabinoids contribute to the regulation of mood, appetite, pain sensation, and more.
  • The research underscores the importance of the ECS in promoting homeostasis and overall health.

Understanding endocannabinoids

The endocannabinoid system is a complex network in our body. It helps keep everything balanced by controlling many internal functions. At its core are endocannabinoids like anandamide and 2-AG. They link up with cannabinoid receptors everywhere in our nervous systems.

Anandamide and 2-AG act as natural triggers for these receptors. This was first shown by Matsuda L. A. and the team in 1990. They explained the building blocks and activity of these receptors. Later, Zygmunt P. M. et al. in 1999 found that special vanilloid receptors on nerve endings are also involved. They notice the signals from anandamide.

It’s key to understand how the receptors and endocannabinoids work together. This understanding can affect sleep, memory, and how our bodies fight sickness. Studies like the one by Wilson R. I. and Nicoll R. A. in 2001 show how they help in brain functions tied to learning and remembering things.

Endocannabinoids play a big part in keeping our body balanced. A study by Carrasco S. and Merida I. in 2007 looked at diacylglycerol, which helps make endocannabinoids. On the other hand, Reisenberg M. et al. in 2012 studied diacylglycerol lipases. These enzymes are key in breaking down endocannabinoids after they’ve done their job.

Understanding the detailed working in our ECS, including how receptors connect, is vital. It shows how our body fine-tunes its functions. This knowledge doesn’t only deepen our grasp of living in balance. It also may lead us to new ways to tackle health issues.

Components of the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex network that keeps the body balanced. It is made up of endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and certain enzymes. Together, these parts work to regulate various body functions.


Endocannabinoids, like anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonyl glycerol (2-AG), are created when needed by the body. They are important for sending messages between cells. These messages affect things such as pain, mood, and how hungry we feel.

For example, anandamide helps control the flow of calcium in nerve cells. This makes it a key player in how we feel pain and other senses. 2-AG, on the other hand, fully activates certain receptors, showing its importance as well. The body’s levels and activity of these chemicals change based on what’s happening. This helps the body respond to different needs.

Digestive system endocannabinoids illustration

Cannabinoid receptors

Two main kinds of cannabinoid receptors are CB1 and CB2. They are found on cell surfaces all over the body’s nervous systems. CB1s are largely in the brain, while CB2s are mostly in immune cells.

These receptors interact with endocannabinoids to affect various things. For example, they help control pain and keep the immune system in check. Research also suggests that influencing CB2 receptors can help in reducing inflammation. This is by making immune cells interact less with certain blood vessels.


Enzymes like FAAH and MAGL help break down endocannabinoids after they’ve done their job. FAAH takes care of anandamide. This stops our ECS from getting overstimulated. On the flip side, MAGL processes 2-AG. It keeps the balance of this critical chemical in check. This helps keep everything running smoothly.

Here’s a summary of the main roles and functions of some important ECS parts:

ComponentRoles and functions
Anandamide (AEA)Regulation of pain, mood, and appetite; it’s a partial agonist that blocks calcium flow
2 Arachidonyl Glycerol (2-AG)Full agonist acting through CB2; it influences pain and immune reactions
CB1 receptorsMainly in the brain; they impact brain function
CB2 receptorsFound in immune cells; they adjust immune responses
FAAHBreaks down anandamide, controlling its effects
MAGLDegrades 2-AG, avoiding excessive stimulation

All these pieces work together to make the ECS and keep our body in balance. They are vital for maintaining our physical health.

What are endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids are compounds made inside the body. They help control several body functions. In the early 90s, the endocannabinoid system was discovered. Researchers found it while studying THC, a well-known compound in cannabis. This discovery showed our bodies naturally produce anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG).

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is made up of CB1 and CB2 receptors. These are located in different parts of the body. CB1 receptors are in the central nervous system. Meanwhile, CB2 receptors are in the peripheral nervous system.

The ECS influences many processes, including appetite, pain, mood, and more. Endocannabinoids are key to these functions. They are important in researching how cannabis affects us, including compounds like THC and CBD.

Nervous system endocannabinoids graphic

THC attaches to ECS receptors, producing effects like pain relief and increased hunger. CBD works differently. It helps endocannabinoids stay longer in the body by stopping their degradation.

Enzymes help manage the ECS by breaking down endocannabinoids. FAAH breaks down anandamide. MAGL is in charge of 2-AG. This process helps keep the ECS balanced and prevents overactivation.

Low levels of endocannabinoids may relate to certain health issues like migraines and irritable bowel syndrome. This connection suggests we can treat some conditions by focusing on the ECS. The discovery of the ECS has opened new doors in health and disease research, thanks to cannabis’s impact on our bodies.

Physiological processRole of ECSInteraction with THC
Appetite & digestionRegulates appetite and digestive processesTHC increases appetite
Chronic painModulates pain pathwaysTHC provides pain relief
InflammationReduces inflammation responsesPotential anti-inflammatory effects
MoodInfluences mood regulationMay affect mood changes
Cardiovascular functionRegulates cardiovascular healthPossible influence on heart function

The interaction of THC and CBD with the ECS

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a key part of our body’s balance. It interacts with THC and CBD from the cannabis plant. People are very interested in how THC and CBD work with the ECS. They have different effects because they work with the ECS in different ways.

Cannabis plant endocannabinoids source

THC and the ECS

THC is what makes you feel high from cannabis. It affects both CB1 and CB2 receptors in the ECS strongly. By doing this, THC can change how your brain and bodywork. It can cause effects like feeling happy or changing how you see things. THC can also help with pain and make you feel hungry by working with these receptors.

CBD and the ECS

CBD doesn’t make you feel high like THC does. It interacts with the ECS differently. CBD doesn’t directly attach to the ECS receptors. Instead, it helps the ECS work better by changing how some signals are sent in the body. It can help stop inflammation and lower stress. This shows how helpful CBD can be without making you feel high.

THC and CBD offer different ways to help with medical problems by working with the ECS. This shows that cannabis can be useful in many ways. Studying how THC and CBD work with the ECS could lead to new medical treatments. ECS modulation is still a very interesting topic for scientists to explore.

1964Isolation, structure, and partial synthesis of an active constituent of Hashish
1988Determination and characterization of a cannabinoid receptor in rat brain
1990Structure of a cannabinoid receptor and functional expression of the cloned cDNA
1995Identification of an endogenous 2-monoglyceride that binds to cannabinoid receptors in the canine gut
2001Endogenous cannabinoids mediate retrograde signalling at hippocampal synapses
2002The endogenous cannabinoid system controls the extinction of aversive memories
2005Endocannabinoid activation at hepatic CB1 receptors stimulates fatty acid synthesis contributing to diet-induced obesity
2010Individual and additive effects of the CNR1 and FAAH genes on the brain’s response to marijuana cues
2013Anandamide hydrolysis is proposed as a new target for anti-anxiety drugs
2013Marijuana stops child’s seizures in a reported case on CNN
2013Cannabidivarin-rich cannabis extracts are anticonvulsant via a CB1 receptor-independent mechanism
2013Endocannabinoid system and mood disorders priming a target for new therapies

Potential therapeutic effects of targeting the ECS

Since the early 1990s, the ECS has grabbed scientists’ attention. It was discovered when the first endocannabinoid was found in the human brain. This system includes endocannabinoids like Anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoyl glyerol (2-AG). It also has two types of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. These parts are spread in our bodies, helping us work just right.

Endocannabinoids in human system

The ECS is crucial for keeping us in balance. It looks after key jobs like controlling our body temperature. The system can be helped or slowed down by cannabinoids. For instance, substances like THC and CBD in Cannabis help this system work better. They might help us feel better, easing pain, improving mood, and controlling appetite.

Some think not enough endocannabinoids might be making us sick. This theory looks at diseases like chronic pain and problems with our brain and immune system. By studying these diseases, we hope to find new ways to heal by helping the ECS work correctly again.

Personal insight

As someone deeply immersed in the cannabis industry for over a decade, I am constantly fascinated by the potential of endocannabinoids. My experience in CBD and hemp production has shown me firsthand the profound impact these natural compounds can have on people’s lives. Witnessing the transformative effects of CBD on conditions such as chronic pain and anxiety has reinforced my belief in the therapeutic power of cannabinoids.

The research into the ECS is a promising frontier in medicine. I believe we are only scratching the surface of understanding how these compounds can be harnessed to improve health outcomes.

The ability to modulate the ECS offers a unique pathway to address various ailments, and I am excited about the future discoveries that will continue to emerge in this field. As we deepen our understanding of the ECS, I am confident that we will unlock new, effective treatments that will enhance the well-being of many.

Frequently asked questions

What are endocannabinoids?

Endocannabinoids are natural compounds in our bodies. They act on cannabinoid receptors. Two important ones are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). They help regulate many bodily processes through the ECS.

How do endocannabinoids contribute to homeostasis?

Anandamide and 2-AG are key for our internal balance. They bind to receptors like CB1 and CB2. Their role includes helping with sleep, learning, memory, and the immune system.

What are the core components of the endocannabinoid system (ECS)?

The ECS consists of endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. For example, AEA and 2-AG are the endocannabinoids. CB1 and CB2 are the receptors. FAAH and MAGL are enzymes. They all work to keep our bodies in check by making, using, and breaking down these compounds.

How is THC from the cannabis plant related to endocannabinoids?

THC is a cannabinoid in cannabis. It acts like our natural endocannabinoids by interacting with CB1 and CB2 receptors. This interaction can affect our mood, thinking, and perception. It may also help with easing pain.

What is the interaction of THC with the ECS?

THC interacts strongly with the ECS receptors. It acts like our endocannabinoids do. This interaction can have various effects, including making us feel high, easing pain, and offering therapeutic advantages.

How does CBD interact with the ECS?

CBD works differently from THC. It does not directly bind to the receptors. Instead, it affects how the ECS works by changing the levels of endocannabinoids or influencing other pathways. This can help reduce inflammation and pain.

What are the potential therapeutic effects of targeting the ECS?

Focusing on the ECS shows hope for several health issues. This includes chronic pain, nerve disorders, and problems with the immune system. By affecting the ECS in various ways, we can see good results.

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