The Endocannabinoid System: Why is it special?

In essence, the endocannabinoid system or ECS is a vital body regulator. This was mentioned in an abstract by Chad A. Sallaberry and Laurie Astern. The ECS regulates several critical roles involving the brain, immune system, muscles, heart, and more. But other than that, why is it such a special system for researchers to explore?

*Related article: Homeostasis and CBD

What is the endocannabinoid system?

Simply put, the endocannabinoid system is a network of signal receptors found in various parts of the body. These signal receptors, or cannabinoid receptors, will receive input via endocannabinoids that trigger regulatory functions particular to the organ or part of the body.

What is/are the function of the endocannabinoid system?

The ECS, as mentioned, serves as a regulator or an “override” signal when triggered. There are two primary receptors in the ECS: CB1 and CB2, with CB being short for cannabinoid. 

CB1 receptors are primarily found within the brain, while CB2 receptors are mainly located in the central and peripheral nervous system, immune system, and within white blood cells. 

While CB1 and CB2 receptors are primarily found in their respective areas, they can be found in each other’s domain, although not as many.

To visualize the regulatory or override effect, an injury to a body part such as the arm or a finger triggers an inflammatory response. The ECS detects when it is too much or if the response is no longer needed and proceeds to have the receptors bind with cannabinoids and gradually reduce the inflammatory response.

What makes the endocannabinoid system special?

The presence of the ECS on multiple areas of the body allows it to have various functions that can be influenced by modern medicine and alternative treatments. Further study provides insight into the possible abilities of the ECS on the body.

1. Retrograde Signaling System

In an interview by the Medical Cannabis Network, Dr. Adam Norris explains that the ECS functions as a retrograde signaling system. 

Dr. Norris illustrates that signaling is typically a forward motion with part one signaling part two, and so on. The ECS is instead a feedback system with endocannabinoids produced in a “backward mechanism”. In essence, influencing the ECS creates a feedback effect to regulate or stop a specific effect on the body.

2. The Effect of Diet on the Endocannabinoid System

Dr. Norris further, in the same interview, elaborates how diet affects the endocannabinoid system, with Omega-3 rich diets favoring the function of the ECS. In addition, Dr. Norris explains that there is a correlation with how diets rich in Omega-6 have a higher presence of inflammation versus those with higher consumption of Omega-3.

3. Apoptotic Functions and Potential Cures for HIV, Cancer, Autism, ALS, and Epilepsy

In a recent study published in 2018, the researchers described the endocannabinoid system as capable of doing a “negative feedback loop” thanks to the input from varying receptors and cannabinoids. The negative feedback loop can both decrease or increase cell death (apoptosis).

The study describes apoptosis as the general cause of HIV, where immune cells undergo increased cell death rates. The researchers believe that reversing apoptosis in the early stage of HIV can help eradicate the virus, and the ECS can be critical. The study also describes this as a potential area for ECS in Autism and ALS as these two diseases are often associated with the apoptosis of specific neurons.

On the other hand, Cancer is described as the uncontrolled growth of cells as it evades apoptosis and metastasizes or spreads to other organs. However, the ECS may help through selective apoptosis, which can be triggered, according to the study, by THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. The treatment using the ECS avoids the intense side-effects that often come from cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.

The study finally describes Epilepsy as caused by several reasons; however, a dysfunctional ECS can cause it as the ECS regulates a host of functions in the body. Therefore, further understanding of the ECS can lead to better treatment of Epilepsy in the future.

4. ECS and Mental Illness

Mental illness is becoming better understood in recent years but is still tricky to treat. The researchers from the same study illustrate that mental illnesses could be viewed on their similarities rather than separately. This particular view yields common symptoms that overlap when diagnosed and could possibly be from similar imbalances in the brain. 

According to the study, these imbalances may be influenced by errors in the endocannabinoid system and that treating the ECS could provide a more permanent solution.


So where does CBD come into play with the ECS? Well, experts aren’t completely sure how CBD interacts with the ECS. However, they do know that it doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors the way THC does.

Instead, many in the field believe it works by preventing endocannabinoids from being broken down. This allows them to have more of an effect on your body. Others believe that CBD binds to a receptor that hasn’t been discovered yet.

While the details of how it works are still under debate, research suggests that CBD can help with pain, nausea, and other symptoms associated with multiple conditions.

Just like you can have an iron deficiency in your body you can have a cannabinoid deficiency, as well. You can take iron supplements to get your body back in alignment in that area. Similarly, by taking CBD and other cannabinoid products you can get your body back to homeostasis.

The Wrap

The ECS is special in a way that it may change how we approach curing diseases. In addition to using invasive pharmacological approaches, the ECS may shed light on how the body can enhance its internal rehabililation system on complicated cases like cancer. 

Understanding how ECS works, down to the molecular level, may make less tolerable interventions obsolete.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration and are in no way intended to treat or diagnose any physical ailment or disease.

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