Last month we covered a basic introduction to the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Recall that your body maintains homeostasis by the mighty ECS.

This month we’ll dig a little deeper. Let’s discuss your endocannabinoid system’s receptors.

Cannabinoid receptors are located throughout your body to receive endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids and put them to work.

Endocannabinoids are endogenous cannabinoids, which means your body makes them.

Phytocannabinoids are plant-derived. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the phytocannabinoids with which we are most familiar.

There are more than 100 cannabinoids that have been identified and named by scientists, and dozens or hundreds more — depending on who you ask — that have been identified but not named.

From the video’s description on YouTube:

Visualization of the endocannabinoid signaling system. A Master’s Research Project submitted to Masters of Science, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. Developed in collaboration with Biomedical Communications, Department of Biology, University of Toronto at Mississauga, The Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids and with funding provided in part by the Quebec Pain Research Network. 

This video, made available via YouTube, is copyright to Leanne Chan, 2011.

THC is, of course, the cannabinoid responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis. It acts as a pain reliever, antibiotic, sleep aid and muscle relaxer; it can ease nausea and vomiting and even protect brain cells (neuroprotection) and regenerate them, too (neuroregeneration).

It may surprise you to know that your body, when it’s saturated (we’ll get into that in a minute), makes its own version of THC called anandamide.

Anandamide, you might guess, is like the “high on life” feeling that makes you feel happy. It is your body’s natural antidepressant, but your ECS cannot work with anandamide alone. It needs help from other cannabinoids.

CBD is the phytocannabinoid many know as the anti-inflammatory, anti-seizure cannabinoid. CBD is a phytocannabinoid produced by plants like cannabis sativa, which includes hemp. CBD plays many roles within our ECS.

Did you know your body can make its own version of THC called anandamide?

Arachidonoylglycerol, or 2-AG, is our body’s natural endocannabinoid, a CBD counterpart if you will — or the one our bodies produce.

This human-body-made endocannabinoid, 2-AG, unlike anandamide, does not get you high.

Cannabinoids affect other receptors, too

THC binds to cannabinoid receptors, called CB-1 receptors, and actually modulate other receptors found throughout the body by inhibiting or enhancing their binding actions.

One of the receptors you may be familiar with is the serotonin receptor. It’s associated with depression and anxiety because the drugs used to treat them increase serotonin uptake.

CBD binds to those same receptors making it a natural way to treat these problems.

From the YouTube description:

BBC report on cannabis and the human body’s cannabinoid receptors. This report shows human evolution’s reaction to cannabis.

This video made available via YouTube and Reverend Ryan.

Saturation is important

When you saturate your ECS with phytocannabinoids it’s easier for your body to make endocannabinoids.

You read that right. If you’re not saturating your body with phytocannabinoids — the plant-based cannabinoids — your body is struggling to create its own endocannabinoids, and this can lead to problems.

Study: Care and Feeding of the Endocannabinoid System via PubMed.

When your body is “saturated,” you’ve simply given it enough access to plant-derived cannabinoids (like CBD or THC).

This healthy consumption of cannabinoids in turn spurs an increase in the number of your cannabinoid receptors everywhere in your body, which you may imagine like baseball gloves “catching” the cannabinoids you’ve pitched into your body. The receptors then get busy sending those molecules throughout your body to make repairs and maintain homeostasis.

Since you body creates its own cannabinoids, stimulating this cycle is the primary result of saturating your body with cannabinoids.

Entourage effect

As you research cannabis and its affect on the human body you may read about something called the “entourage effect.”

As with so many cannabis-related issues, scientists continue to debate the validity of the entourage effect. It is anticipated that research will improve once cannabis is removed from the federal Schedule I drug list.

The entourage effect is only possible when a person has access to a variety of cannabinoids. Entourage effect is the term that describes the way that multiple cannabinoids and terpenes — the molecules found in a variety of foods and plants that give them their aroma and flavor — are mutually supportive, and work better together.

Learn about the different types of cannabinoids at Leafly.com.

We covered some big vocabulary words and ideas this month. They are essential for understanding the endocannabinoid system. Let us know if you have any questions. If you have other resources on the endocannabinoid system, please share them with us in the comments or via social media.

BY Kelly Helms

BY Kelly Helms

Health Contributor

Nerdy girl-next-door who excels in everything science and goofball. Kelly is also a healthcare professional, a small business owner and a mother. And she wants to talk to you about your endocannabinoid system.