Endocannabinoid System

How our body's biology interacts with medical cannabis.


In 1964, Raphael Mechoulam discovered the therapeutically active substances in the cannabis plant that came to be known as cannabinoids while working in Israel. He isolated the most well known and arguably most effective single cannabinoid, THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. It took more than twenty years of subsequent research until the body’s endocannabinoid system was identified.

Endocannabinoids are the special molecules which our bodies produce naturally that are a crucial and integral part of how our bodies achieve proper functioning of the immune system and nervous system. The endocannabinoids our bodies produce are almost identical to the cannabinoids found in cannabis, called phytocannabinoids because they originate outside of the body and imitate endocannabinoids. The function of the endocannabinoid system is achieved by the action of the cannabinoids precisely fitting into specialized receptors found through the nervous and immune systems. Its purpose is to maintain homeostasis and health and act as the conductor of the body’s orchestra.


Scientists continued their research after isolating THC, achieving further discoveries which lead to the identification of specialized receptors in the body. Our understanding of these unique receptors, called CB1 & CB2, has profoundly enhanced our understanding of how phytocannabinoids interact with our endocannabinoid system and produce sometimes profound mental effects. The understanding gained of these receptors allowed designers to produce synthetic chemicals and specialized extracts which take best advantage of these receptors.

CB1 receptors are located throughout our entire brain and central nervous system, as well as our kidneys, liver, lungs, digestive tract, and even our eyes. Amazingly, these receptors outnumber those with which opiates connect by a huge margin as high as 10 to 1. Best of all these receptors are not located in the basal regions of the brain, which manage the body’s vital functions such as heart and respiratory action, so it is not possible to overdose on cannabis.

CB2 receptors are mainly located in the peripheral organs, specifically in tissues associated with the immune system, including the tonsils, thymus, spleen, and bone marrow.


Dr. Ethan Russo, a prominent and well-published cannabinoid researcher, has written a detailed description of the endocannabinoid system and its efficacy for human health:

“The analgesic and palliative effects of the cannabis and cannabinoid preparation have been amply reported over the past generation…. In essence, the effects result from a combination of receptor and non-receptor mediated mechanisms. THC and other cannabinoids exert many actions through cannabinoid receptors, G-protein coupled membrane receptors that are extremely densely represented in central, spinal, and peripheral nociceptive pathways.”

“Endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) even regulate integrative pain structures such as the periaqueductal gray matter. The endocannabinoid system also interacts in numerous ways with the endogenous opioid and vanillio systems that can modulate analgesia and with a myriad of other neurotransmitter systems such as the serotonergic, dopaminergic, glutameatergic, etc, pertinent to pain. The current author has suggested that a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency may underlie the pathogenesis of migraine, fibromyalgia, idiopathic bowel syndrome, and numerous other painful conditions that defy modern pathophysiological explanation or adequate treatment.”