What is the role of the endocannabinoid system?

What would you do if I told you that you have an endocannabinoid system in your body,  described as one of the most important physiologic systems for human health but yet most doctors don’t even know about it? 

Mind blown? Thought so. 

Role of the endocannabinoid system

What is the endocannabinoid system?

Every mammal on earth has an endocannabinoid system (hereafter ECS). It was only discovered about 30 years ago by doctors studying the effect of the THC (from the cannabis plant) on the human body.

The endocannabinoid system is a collection of endocannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes that make and break down the endocannabinoids. The ECS is found throughout the body 

There are two types of cannabinoid receptors in the human body, CB1 (found in our brains and nervous system) and CB2 (found predominantly in our immune cells). 

Our receptors are activated by endocannabinoids, chemicals we produce in our own bodies. 

You can think of the ECS like an orchestra for your body, it keeps everything in balance. It uses our bodies own endocannabinoids to do this. 

endocannabinoid system

What does the endocannabinoid system do?

The ECS has been implicated in a number of diseases including:

  • Anxiety
  • Appetite
  • Cancer control
  • Energy balance
  • Female reproductive function
  • Homeostasis
  • Immune system
  • Memory
  • Mood
  • Regulation of pain
  • Sleep
  • And many more 


But put very simply, the goal of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis of our bodies and maintain balance between all of our cells. 


The endocannabinoid system affects how you “relax, eat, sleep, forget and protect”

            -      Vincenzo Di Marzo.


Why isn’t the endocannabinoid system taught in medical school?


According to Dr. Ethan Russo, board-certified neurologist and psychopharmacology researcher, the reason that the endocannabinoid system isn’t currently taught at medical school is because the current medical system is “too full” and there just isn’t room to learn anymore without removing something else that is important.

Another reason why doctors aren’t trained on the endocannabinoid system is that there is currently no “one medication” designed to “fix or cure” the endocannabinoid system. If there is no pharmaceutical to fix the problems with endocannabinoid deficiency, there is little incentive to study it.

Obviously, the ongoing stigmas with the cannabis plant plays a role too.

Hopefully this is beginning to change with the slow rollout of legal cannabis throughout the world.


What is clinical endocannabinoid system deficiency? 

Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD) is a condition where the body’s endocannabinoid system does not function at an optimum level.

In 2004, Dr. Ethan Russo published a very important paper in which he questioned whether certain conditions which have been resistant to all pharmaceutical medication, but yet responded to cannabis - could perhaps be the result of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency. 

The three conditions Dr. Ethan Russo proposes might be the result out of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency include:

  • Migraine headaches
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

It is theorised that by supplementing with cannabis, or plant cannabinoids, we can support the deficiency and restore balance.

  • “In the same way a person with diabetes gets back into balance by taking insulin, a person with an endocannabinoid deficiency can get back into balance by taking plant cannabinoids like CBD.”

Endocannabinoid system dysfunction

Not only might we have an endocannabinoid deficiency, our endocannabinoid system can sometimes just not function optimally. 

Like most other systems in our body, our endocannabinoid system also suffers from our poor processed diets, chronic stress in our hectic modern lifestyles.

When our endocannabinoid system is dysfunctional, it can affect everything from:


How CBD supports the endocannabinoid system

It is proposed that plant cannabinoids like cannabis and CBD could support the endocannabinoid system by either increasing the production of endcannabinoids, decrease the endocannabinoid breakdown or increase the endocannabinoid receptor density.  McPartland, 2014

This might explain why certain people who have symptoms consistent with endocannabinoid deficiency such as IBS, fibromyalgia and migranes tend to find their symptoms improve when taking CBD.