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How does the endocannabinoid system work?

Sep. 15, 2023 by SOMAÍ

How does the endocannabinoid system work?

The ECS is made up of three core components:

1 Endocannabinoids, also referred to as endogenous cannabinoids, that are molecules made by your body

2 Cannabinoid

3 Enzymes that synthesise
and degrade

1 Endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids are chemical messengers that bind to cannabinoid receptors to signal that the ECS needs to take action.  They are similar to cannabinoids, except that they are produced by your body.

There are two key endocannabinoids that have been identified:

  • Anandamide (AEA)
  • 2-arachidonoyglyerol (2-AG)

These chemical messengers keep internal functions running smoothly and are produced by your body as and when they are needed.

2 Cannabinoid receptors

Cannabinoid receptors can be found throughout your body. To-date, two cannabinoid receptors that have been studied: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors can be found in abundance in the central and peripheral nervous system, as well as the gastrointestinal tract and skeletal system.  CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are mostly located in the peripheral nervous system, particularly immune cells.  Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The influence that this has depends on where the receptor is located, and which endocannabinoid binds to it.

CB1 receptors influence pain, sleep, appetite, and memory, and mediate most psychoactive effects of cannabinoids.  On the other hand, CB2 receptors are primarily involved in anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive actions.

3 Enzymes

Enzymes are responsible for synthesising and breaking down endocannabinoids once they have carried out their function.

There are two main enzymes that are responsible for the degradation of endocannabinoids:


  • Fatty acid amid hydrolase, which breaks down endocannabinoid AEA
  • Monoacylglycerol lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG