The Endocannabinoid System

The Endocannabinoid System (eCB)  

"The eCB system's salient homeostatic roles have been summarized as, “relax, eat, sleep, forget, and protect”." - (McPartland et al. 2014)

The Endocannabinoid System (eCB) consists of receptors, enzymes, and ligands throughout the body that regulates an interdependent network of bodily functions. This system has been described as a "master system" that regulates the intake of plant-derived cannabinoids from, Cannabis sativa L. while influencing homeostasis within bodily systems. CB1 receptors are recognized as the most abundant receptors associated with the (eCB). They are highly dense in areas of the neurological system as well as expression in non-neuron cells like fat storage, muscular-skeletal, and liver cells. CB2 receptors are found to be densely present in the peripheral body and involved in immune functions with minor roles in the central nervous system. These two groups of receptors including TRPV1, GPR55, and more are attuned to granting the 'entourage effect' supposedly delivered by Cannabis sativa L. The body produces its own endocannabinoids "on-demand" meaning when processes are recognized to be out of balance. AEA or anandamide was the first endocannabinoid discovered and found to have similar binding to CB1 and CB2 as the plant cannabinoid THC. 


"The modulation of the activity of this system holds tremendous therapeutic potential in a wide range of diseases, ranging from cancer, pain, neurodegenerative, and cardiovascular diseases to obesity and metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and diabetic complications." - (Horváth et al. 2012)

Plant-derived Cannabinoids (Phytocannabinoids)

THC, CBD, CBG. CBN and CBC are the most popular cannabinoids found in Cannabis sativa L. with over 100 found in the total plant. The plant also contains a host of flavonoids, terpenoids, and sterols that all affect human health. Flavonoids are well understood for influencing cell signaling and antioxidation. Terpenoids like myrcene, limonene, linalool, pinene, and beta-caryophyllene are known as the largest group of secondary metabolites produced by plants. These compounds come in many structural forms with a range of effects on plants from insect repellent, pathogen defense, and attracting pollinators. For humans, terpenoids are compounds that have shown to be anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-depressant, sedative, and a wide range of other therapeutic potentials. Sterols are plant compounds that resemble cholesterol found in animals. In our diet, getting plenty of plant foods to ensure that we intake enough sterols and plant-derived sterols can be beneficial to high cholesterol situations. All plants produce a range of flavonoids, terpenoids, and sterols that positively affect human health. Cannabis sativa L. is currently the only plant found to produce cannabinoids that directly or indirectly influence the human's endocannabinoid system. 



Lifestyle Linked to Endocannabinoid System

It has been known that what happens in our daily lives greatly affects how we feel. Most importantly, the food we ingest can give us an idea of the health we can expect to develop. The endocannabinoid system has been recognized as a regulatory system that has an influence on every organ system within the body. The eCB is sure other bodily systems are at homeostasis, or in natural balance. 

Using the plant cannabis dominant in CBD to increase the presence of the endocannabinoid AEA through FAAH inhibiting could, theoretically, mean the use of full-spectrum hemp can increase the body's natural compounds that have similar actions to THC in the body.  Naturally, the plant produces more than cannabinoids, and along with sterols, fatty acids, terpenoids, flavonoids, and pigments, these compounds work to therapeutically affect the whole body. 

Meet the Terpenes - A Visual Introduction from Isoprene to Latex 
by: James Kennedy  

Meet the Terpenes - A Visual Introduction from Isoprene to Latex

Click Photo to Access Full Infographic

Unlike cannabinoids, these compounds can be found throughout the entire plant kingdom. Wherever these plant compounds are found, accompany their therapeutic potential. Similar to cannabinoids these compounds also work directly or indirectly with the functioning of the endocannabinoid system.  For example, terpenoids present in cannabis flowers are also found in oranges, lavender, black pepper, pine needles, mangoes, basil, and many other fruits, flowers, and herbs. Beta-Caryophyllene is a terpenoid present in many cannabis strains as well as within black pepper, lemon balm, holy basil, and several other plants. This compound interacts with CB2 receptors directly and has a similar effect to CBD's indirect role on CB2 receptor activation.  All these compounds, except cannabinoids, found in Cannabis sativa L. can be found elsewhere in plants and spices already used in cooking, herbal teas, supplements, and natural medicine. 


Activating the Endocannabinoid System

We have only begun to understand the role of the endocannabinoid system potential as a target for health management. We do know there are factors in our daily lives that can affect the functioning of this system far beyond the control of any therapy developed. The multifunctionality of the endocannabinoid system creates difficulty when designing too broad and less individualized therapies. Based on anecdotal and preclinical trial evidence on the use of Cannabis sativa L. and the multitude of phytonutrients produced in cannabis, it could be suggested that the use of other plants can provide questionable amounts of similar benefits comparable to cannabis. If plants like basil and spices like black pepper can produce similar anti-inflammatory effects found in cannabis, this same basil or spice can also be assumed to give those same effects when ingested regularly with other plants containing comparable qualities. 

Our endocannabinoid system is always working to continue ensuring natural balance. There are choices we make in our daily life that enhance or suppress the functioning of this system. Below are the five major lifestyle factors that affect the endocannabinoid system. 

  1. Pharmaceutical Drugs (NSAIDS, Opioids, Antidepressants, Acetaminophen, Antipsychotics,…)

  2. Food Intake (Fruits & Veggies, Prebiotics, Inulin, Omega-3, Spices, Herbs) 

  3. Recreational Drugs (alcohol, tobacco, coffee, cannabis, nicotine)

  4. Lifestyle Practices (exercise, weight, stress management, environment)

  5. Health Management (dietary supplements, herbal medicines, acupuncture, massages, other clinical interventions)


Gertsch J. (2017). Cannabimimetic phytochemicals in the diet - an evolutionary link to food selection and metabolic stress adaptation?. British journal of pharmacology174(11), 1464–1483. 
Horváth, B., Mukhopadhyay, P., Haskó, G., & Pacher, P. (2012). The endocannabinoid system and plant-derived cannabinoids in diabetes and diabetic complications. The American journal of pathology, 180(2), 432–442.
Maayah, Zaid H., et al. (2020) "The molecular mechanisms that underpin the biological benefits of full-spectrum cannabis extract in the treatment of neuropathic pain and inflammation." Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-Molecular Basis of Disease 1866.7 : 165771.
McPartland JM, Guy GW, Di Marzo V (2014) Care and Feeding of the Endocannabinoid System: A Systematic Review of Potential Clinical Interventions that Upregulate the Endocannabinoid System. PLoS ONE 9(3): e89566.
 Pacher, P., Bátkai, S., & Kunos, G. (2006). The endocannabinoid system as an emerging target of pharmacotherapy. Pharmacological reviews, 58(3), 389–462.
Russo, E.B. (2011), Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163: 1344-1364.
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