What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do? Everything You Need to Know | Blog | Modern Remedy

Cannabinoids have become a hot topic lately as the CBD industry generates billions of dollars in sales. Products containing CBD are everywhere, and you’re probably wondering what all the hype is about. Well, before you can know why people are going crazy for cannabinoids, you have to understand the endocannabinoid system, or ECS.

The ECS is a part of your brain that has a hand in regulating many functions. Even if you’ve never used cannabis before, you have an ECS! Your body naturally produces and processes cannabinoids.

But what exactly does the endocannabinoid system do? Where does CBD come into play?

The answers are a little technical, but we’ll break it down for you below. Read on to understand how the endocannabinoid system works and how to utilize CBD to your greatest benefit.

The Endocannabinoid System: Your Brain’s Pilot

The endocannabinoid system is a biological system that has a hand in regulating all bodily functions. Scientists discovered the ECS in 1990, so we’re only beginning to scratch the surface. Scientists have become fascinated with the endocannabinoid system, saying it may be one of the most crucial systems in the human body.

The ECS strives to maintain homeostasis in the body. Homeostasis is when the internal environment remains stable despite an unstable exterior. In essence, the ECS makes sure your inner body is habitable.

Think of homeostasis as Goldilocks and the three bears. Your internal environment can be too hot, too cold, or just right. The ECS’s goal is to keep your cells in the “just right” zone at all times.

This manifests in a few different ways. Your ECS plays a part in regulating all of these functions:

  • Appetite
  • Sleep Cycle
  • Mood
  • Memory

…and possibly more! ECS research is still in its infancy.

What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?

In short, the ECS produces and processes cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are present throughout your body, from your brain to your digestive system. Cannabinoid receptors are present in the membranes of most cells in your body.

The ECS sends messages through your body to call attention to cells that may be leaving their “just right” zone. If there’s an issue anywhere, the ECS sends signals through your brain to kick-start the proper cellular response. These cellular responses can be the release of hormones, release of melatonin, or any number of other normal functions.

So, homeostasis is the goal. But how exactly does the ECS achieve that? If the ECS works on a molecular level, how can we know what’s going on down there?

Components of the Endocannabinoid System

Scientists have identified multiple different parts of the ECS that work in tandem to process cannabinoids. These components are present in different places within the body, and all perform unique jobs.

We can break the ECS down into three components: the endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. We’ll also talk a little about phytocannabinoids, which are not innately present in your body, but can be introduced.

Endocannabinoid Receptors

First, let’s talk about the endocannabinoid receptors. These are the parts of the ECS that directly bind with cannabinoids. The receptors then signal which systems should fire according to that cannabinoid.

For example, if cannabinoids bind with receptors in your lower back, they may encourage the body to send some pain relief that way. If they bind with receptors in your cerebellum, they can help you to relax and fall asleep.

Endocannabinoid receptors are embedded in cell membranes. This way, they are present throughout an entire cellular system, and exert control on a microscopic level.

There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1 receptors are predominantly found in the central nervous system, cerebellum, and reproductive system.
  • CB2 receptors are predominantly found in the immune system. 

However, researchers believe that there are many more endocannabinoid receptors in the human body. There are a few minor cannabinoid receptors that have been found in the gastrointestinal and nervous systems. This proves that the ECS is crucial to human functioning!


Endocannabinoids are the cannabinoids produced by the body itself. They’re synthesized on-demand to send signals throughout the body when attention is needed.

Fatty molecules found in cell membranes make endocannabinoids. This means they bind and degrade fast, which is perfect for a system that functions 24/7. When endocannabinoids are produced, your body utilizes them immediately, creating a zero-waste molecular system.

There are two main endocannabinoids produced by humans:

  • Anandamide: mostly interacts with CB1 receptors, but will sometimes attach to CB2 receptors; known as “the bliss molecule”
  • 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-A): only interacts with CB2 receptors; also found in breast milk

Anandamide and 2-A work in tandem to transmit critical signals throughout the body. These molecules are produced and immediately worked through to best maintain homeostasis. But what actually “digests” the endocannabinoids, so to speak?


Once an endocannabinoid has bound with a receptor and fulfilled its purpose, specific enzymes “digest” it. These enzymes are produced from fatty acids in cell membranes.

There are two identified enzymes in the ECS:

  • Fatty acid amide hydrolase: primarily breaks down anandamide
  • Monoacylglycerol acid lipase: primarily breaks down 2-AG

These enzymes maintain homeostasis by making sure there are no extra endocannabinoids present. Too many endocannabinoids could throw a whole system out of balance!


Now, phytocannabinoids aren’t naturally part of the human body. They are introduced, either by ingestion, topical application, or smoking.

But phytocannabinoids show an interesting “kick-start” effect on the ECS. They bind with receptors just as endocannabinoids do, but promote normal function in a different way.

As the name suggests, phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced by plants. Cannabis is the most famous cannabinoid-rich plant, but they can be found in many others. Recently, scientists have discovered that echinacea is full of cannabinoids as well.

The most famous phytocannabinoid is THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana. However, most phytocannabinoids are not psychoactive. Cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) are phytocannabinoids that have no psychoactive effects.

Cannabis and the ECS are inextricable. Read on to find out why the cannabis plant is so important to the endocannabinoid system.

Cannabis and the Endocannabinoid System

The ECS and cannabis are forever linked: the ECS was discovered by scientists studying the effects of THC on lab rats. Lisa Matsuda and her research team identified a new receptor that only processed THC in the rat’s brains. This led to the discovery of the receptors and endocannabinoids that influence bodily function.

Since then, scientists have discovered that all vertebrates have an endocannabinoid system. Some invertebrates demonstrate ECS function as well! Since its discovery, scientists have theorized that the system evolved over 600 million years ago.

It’s all thanks to cannabis. In fact, the scientists named the ECS for the cannabis plant–not the other way around! Without cannabis, we would know much less about this system of cells.

But what exactly does cannabis do to help the ECS? If the body makes its own cannabinoids, why should we introduce more?

CBD and Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabidiol, or CBD, has taken the market by storm. When applied topically, it can help to ease chronic pain. When ingested, it can boost your mood and improve your sleep cycle.

But the way that CBD interacts with cannabinoid receptors is a little bit different. Unlike THC, which immediately binds to and stimulates CB1 receptors, CBD doesn’t exactly “bind” with a receptor.

The leading research suggests that CBD prevents the endocannabinoids from breaking down as quickly, sending out signals for a longer time.

It’s also theorized that CBD amplifies the potency of anandamide and 2-A, allowing them to better bind with receptors.

When used in conjunction, though, THC and CBD work wonders on the ECS. Full or broad-spectrum CBD contains other cannabinoids, including less than .3% THC. This encourages the entourage effect, in which the benefits of each cannabinoid are strengthened by the others.

By using full-spectrum CBD, you experience the best of both worlds. Incorporating CBD into your lifestyle can help with everything from sleeping better to managing anxiety.

Benefits of CBD

There are a myriad of benefits to using CBD. Whether you want to ingest CBD oil or use a CBD salve, introducing CBD to your routine can be life-changing.

Because CBD stimulates the ECS, it ensures that the ECS functions at maximum potential. This means that the ECS can regulate your sleep better, stabilize your moods more easily, and promote homeostasis without overworking.

That’s why we say CBD promotes normal function. It’s not a super drug that will make you act out. It interacts with an ancient cellular system and encourages it to do its job well.

Because of this, regular ingestion or application of CBD can help to do many things, including:

  • Reduce chronic pain
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Ease swelling
  • Promote Circadian rhythm
  • Boost mood
  • Promote relaxation

All without any psychoactive effects!

Now You Know Your ECS

Now that you understand the ECS and how CBD interacts with it, you’re ready to face the world. We hope you’re no longer asking yourself, “what does the endocannabinoid system do?” and are ready to tell your friends and family about receptors and enzymes. Knowledge is power, and you’re ready to introduce some CBD to your ECS.

To find high-quality CBD oil, salves, and other products, check us out at Modern Remedy. We bring you standout CBD products to enhance your lifestyle. Browse through our catalog today!

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