The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system identified in the early 1990s by researchers exploring cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis plants.

Experts are still trying to fully understand the ECS. But so far, we know it plays role in regulating a range of functions and processes, including:

  • Sleep
  • Mood
  • Appetite
  • Memory
  • Reproduction & Fertility

How does it work?

The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.


Endocannabinoids, are molecules made by your body. They’re similar to cannabinoids found in the Hemp and marijuana plants, but they’re produced by your body.

These help keep internal functions running smoothly.

Endocannabinoid receptors

These receptors are found throughout your body. Endocannabinoids bind to them in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action.

There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system
  • CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells

Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The effects that result depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.


Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function.

What are its functions?

The ECS is complicated, and experts haven’t yet determined exactly how it works or all of its potential functions.

Research has linked the ECS to the following processes:

  • appetite and digestion
  • metabolism
  • chronic pain
  • inflammation and other immune system responses
  • mood
  • learning and memory
  • motor control
  • sleep
  • cardiovascular system function
  • muscle formation
  • bone remodeling and growth
  • liver function
  • reproductive system function
  • stress
  • skin and nerve function

These functions all contribute to homeostasis, which refers to the stability of your internal environment. For example, if an outside force, such as pain from an injury or a fever, throws off your body’s homeostasis, your ECS kicks in to help your body return to its ideal operation.

Today, experts believe that maintaining homeostasis is the primary role of the ECS.

The entourage effect is the reaction that occurs between the interactions of “minor phytocannabinoids” and the more well-known cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. It is believed that cannabis synergy comes from all compounds, including terpenes and other cannabinoids working in concert. It is a synergistic bond between the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and all the compounds found in the hemp plant.

As mentioned, the most well-documented cannabinoids that have therapeutic value by researchers are THC and CBD.  However, since 1988, Dr. Mechoulam and Prof. Shimon Ben-Shabat, the discoverers of THC, believed that the ECS demonstrated an entourage effect in which minor phytochemicals, such as cannabinoids and terpenes increase the activity of the body’s primary naturally occurring cannabinoids, anandamide, and 2AG —making “minor-cannabinoids” not so minor after all.

To reiterate, the ECS and cannabinoids promote restoration of balance in the mind and body when all working together.

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