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The Endocannabinoid System Explained

What Is The Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) belongs to the neuromodulatory system, which is responsible for the development of the central nervous system (CNS). It also plays a role in the conduction of nerve impulses at the synapses, and responds to endogenous and environmental hazards. The components of the system involve enzymes, cannabinoid receptors, and endogenous cannabinoids.

The major cannabinoid receptor is the CB1 receptor; however, CB2, transient receptors, and peroxisome proliferator receptors also play intricate roles. A series of events occur when endogenous cannabinoids bind with CB1 and CB2 receptors.

The endocannabinoid receptors are located at both central and peripheral sites. The CB1 is scattered all over in the brain and plays its role in motor control, emotions, and motivated behavior. In the peripheral system, the receptors are located in the GI tract, adipose tissue, pancreas, liver, skeletal muscles, and the reproductive system. The CB2 receptor only participates in the immune system, maintaining its function.

Studies show that when exogenous cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol interact with cannabinoid receptors, they give rise to some biological effects. Recent research has demonstrated the endocannabinoid system’s role in synaptic plasticity and how it affects schizophrenic patients.

Types of Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are classified into three categories:

  1. Phytocannabinoids, which are extracted from the cannabis plant

  2. Endogenous cannabinoids, which are produced within the human body

  3. Synthetic cannabinoids, which are manufactured in a laboratory

Functions of the Endocannabinoid System

The ECS plays a wide range of roles in the body. The bodily processes affected by this system are listed below.

Energy Balance

Studies have suggested that ECS dysregulation leads to obesity and metabolic syndrome. This makes the use of CB1 blockers to treat cardiometabolic risk factors in obese and overweight individuals an effective option. Moreover, phase III clinical trials have illustrated that therapeutic drugs are seen to regulate the intra-abdominal fat tissue levels, along with glycemic and inflammatory variables.

The CB1 present in the hypothalamus nuclei maintains the body's weight-energy balance.

The ECS regulates metabolism by maintaining appetite, food ingestion, and glucose metabolism.

CB1 blockers elevate the adiponectin production in adipocytes, which in turn gives rise to free fatty acid clearance. This could fight obesity and the cardiovascular risk factors linked to it.

The receptors in the pancreas stimulate β-cells to ramp up insulin production. With the clinical trials conducted so far, activation of the ECS has been shown to reduce insulin resistance, the pathological process that is, in essence, responsible for uncontrolled glucose levels in people suffering from type II diabetes. Resultantly, the body’s own insulin binds with the cells and reduces the blood sugar levels.


Cancer can be a life-threatening disease and requires immediate diagnosis and treatment. The endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in keeping homeostasis in the body, as well as controlling the overgrowth of cancer cells, which aids in cancer treatment.

Synthetic cannabinoids have been found to decrease the negative effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients, which include weight loss, neuropathic pain, nausea, and vomiting. Moreover, phytocannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids have the ability to arrest cancer cells. Not just that, they also interfere with angiogenic and metastatic pathways, which slows down the progression of metastatic disease.

Pain Perception and Inflammation

The feeling of pain is manifested by the release of cytokines acting on local nerves. Cytokines, in combination with inflammatory mediators, dominate the immune response and sensations of pain. The endogenous cannabinoids have been found to block these sensations. They have an immunomodulatory effect on both pain and inflammation.

Studies and clinical trials have suggested that therapeutic and synthesized cannabinoids are useful in the treatment of patients suffering from chronic arthritis and musculoskeletal pain. CBD (cannabidiol) industries offer a wide range of products, including balms, salves, gels, and edibles that are said to act as pain relief. Unlike other pain relievers, CBD is purely organic and free of all hazardous substances.

Temperature Regulation

Endocannabinoids have been shown to act on temperature-sensing receptors in the hypothalamus, known as TRPV1 channels, which are involved in thermoregulation. Anandamide, an endocannabinoid, has also been found to activate TRPV1 on sensory neuron terminals, and subsequently cause vasodilation, which results in increased blood supply to the skin and causes excessive heat dissipation.

Autonomic Nervous System

The role of endocannabinoids in the autonomic nervous system is well understood. The CB1 receptor is expressed presynaptically in the neurons that innervate internal involuntary organs. Cannabinoid-mediated inhibition of electric potentials results in a reduction in noradrenaline release from the sympathetic nervous system.

Other studies have found similar effects in endocannabinoid regulation of intestinal motility, including the innervation of smooth muscles associated with the digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems.

Skin Disorders

After long studies and researches, medical science has concluded that phytocannabinoids and CBD-infused products can also be used on the skin to prevent and treat many different skin problems, irritations, and complications. The mode of action is the same as for all other treatments. It just entails the binding of endocannabinoid receptors with those of the CBD. This can occur from topical application of CBD products.

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