What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and How Does it Work?


What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
and How Does it Work?

People consume cannabis derivatives (like CBD) for multiple reasons, the majority being for the potential therapeutic properties and health/wellness support that they provide.  CBD products boast the potential to promote physical recovery, rest and relaxation, a sense of calm and well-being, healthy immune responses and digestive functioning… the list goes on and on.  But exactly how does it work?  How can one supplement promote such a wide range of health benefits?

It all boils down to the endocannabinoid system (ECS)

The Endocannabinoid system is a communication network that exists in all vertebrates, extending throughout the brain and body.  The ECS plays a major roll in maintaining homeostasis within the body and its many vital systems.

Let’s talk homeostasis

Homeostasis is a fancy word for balance.  The human body is a delicate organism.  In order to function properly, the internal environment needs to maintain balance.  It does this by circling closely around certain physiological set-points that sustain healthy bodily functions.  When you’re hot, you cool down to baseline by (you guessed it…) sweating!  If you’re too cold, your body shivers to produce heat and you warm back up.  Similar processes of restoring balance occur within the cardiovascular system (maintaining heart rate and blood pressure), the digestive system (hunger and fullness cues and pH levels), and, well, basically every system in the human body.

Back to the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

Think about it.  Your body’s ability to maintain homeostasis is what keeps every system running correctly in order to sustain health and LIFE.  If the endocannabinoid system plays a primary role in maintaining this homeostasis, it makes sense that keeping your ECS healthy and happy should be a priority!  So how do you support your ECS?  Don’t worry, we’ll get there!

Like we were saying, the Endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a communication network within the body that transmits information about imbalances in order to make adjustments as needed.  Cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids and metabolic enzymes are the three main pieces that make this communication possible.

Cannabinoid Receptors

The receptors that cannabinoids bind to in order to signal the need for support within the body are known as cannabinoid receptors.  These guys sit on the cell surface and wait for information about the body’s internal environment.  Once a cannabinoid binds to a cannabinoid receptor and provides the receptor with the necessary information, the receptor can then stimulate the appropriate cellular response.


CB1 and CB2 are the two main cannabinoid receptors

  • Your brain houses the majority of your CB1 cannabinoid receptors.  These are the receptors that the infamous cannabinoid, THC, binds with, resulting in psychoactive effects.  That said, THC is not the only cannabinoid that CB1 receptors can accept.  Point being, just because it binds to CB1 receptors does NOT mean that the cannabinoid will get you high!  But we’ll get to that later.
  • CB2 cannabinoid receptors are typically found outside of the nervous system.  CB2 receptors are more abundantly located in the immune system and in organs, bones and tissues, etc.


With the body full of cannabinoid receptors, it only makes sense that there would be naturally occurring cannabinoids within the body to interact with these receptors.  Unlike the commonly known plant-derived cannabinoids (CBD and THC), endocannabinoids (endo- meaning internal) are found within the body.

The two endocannabinoids that do most of the heavy lifting are 2-AG and anandamide.  While organic molecules are more commonly stored in the body, these endocannabinoids are created by cells and quickly destroyed once homeostasis has been reestablished.


Metabolic Enzymes

Metabolic enzymes are responsible for breaking down the endocannabinoids once they have served their purpose.  Specifically, MAGL is responsible for breaking down 2-AG, and FAAH takes care of anandamide.  This ensures that the endocannabinoids do not remain bound to cannabinoid receptors for longer than necessary.

These three main pieces of the ECS can be found throughout the body in most major bodily systems.  When cells in the body fall out of balance, these ECS components get to work bringing them back to their set point.

How do plant-derived cannabinoids like CBD and THC fit into the mix?

Just like endocannabinoids, plant-derived cannabinoids like CBD and THC interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system by binding to cannabinoid receptors.  This is largely why CBD and THC have received so much attention in regards to their therapeutic benefits.  They help supplement the body’s naturally occurring endocannabinoids in order to provide additional support to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), further promoting the maintenance of homeostasis.

THC: Let’s break it down

THC binds primarily to the CB1 receptors in your brain creating an associated euphoria.  But other (endo)cannabinoids, like anandamide, also bind to CB1 receptors and don’t get you high.

So how does this work?

Plant-derived cannabinoids don’t interact with the body’s cannabinoid receptors in the same way that endocannabinoids do.  THC specifically, does not get broken down by your metabolic enzymes immediately after its use.  Because of this, it can hang out with your CB1 receptors for a while.  It is because of this “hang out” time, that you get a “high” feeling associated with THC, particularly when ingested in larger concentrations.

What about CBD?

Like THC, CBD interacts differently with the body’s cannabinoid receptors than your naturally occurring endocannabinoids do.  As a matter of fact, CBD has the ability to bind with multiple different types of receptors throughout the brain and the body.  This versatility offers a wide range of therapeutic benefits, across the whole spectrum of vital bodily systems.  In addition to this, CBD can limit metabolic enzyme activity, thereby increasing levels of active endocannabinoid availability (or increasing “endocannabinoid tone”).  Higher endocannabinoid tone results in a greater number of “balancing” resources available to the body during times of need.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or ailment.  Illuminent assumes no responsibility of improper use of these products. We recommend consulting with a qualified medical doctor or physician when preparing a treatment plan for any and all disease or ailments. Illuminent does not make any health claims about our products and recommends consulting with a qualified medical doctor or physician prior to consuming our products or preparing a treatment plan. It is especially important for those who are pregnant, nursing, chronically ill, elderly or under the age of 18 to discuss the use of these products with a physician prior to consuming. 

Illuminent Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally-occurring constituent of the industrial hemp plant. Illuminent does not sell or distribute any products that are in violation of the United States Controlled Substance Act (US.CSA).  Illuminent does sell and distribute industrial hemp-based products.