Endocannabinoid System


The endocannabinoid system is comprised of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), endocannabinoids (naturally occurring substances) in the human body that mimic the effect of cannabis e.g. anandamide (AEA) and proteins which create or degrade the endocannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system regulates many important physiological processes involving the nervous system, immune system, and metabolism. CB1 is among the most abundant receptor present in the central nervous system.

There is great potential in developing cannabinoids to assist providing medicinal cannabis for patients, for the treatment of multiple disorders such as obesity, vomiting, anorexia, multiple sclerosis, pain, inflammation, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, insomnia, asthma, cardiovascular disorders, glaucoma, and cancer.

Endogenous Cannabinoids (endocannabinoids)
Endocannabinoids (anandamide (AEA) and 2-AG) are compounds naturally produced by the body that interact with cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). When endocannabinoids bind to their respective receptors, a physiological response is triggered through activation of the endocannabinoid system. The term “endo” indicates the compound is produced within the body while “cannabinoid” highlights their functional similarity to compounds THC and CBD which were previously identified in the cannabis plant and called cannabinoids.

Cannabis plants produce substances which interact with different components of the ECS including CB1 and CB2. These are called phytocannabinoids (phyto meaning of plant origin) and can be used to modulate the function of ECS therefore, phytocannabinoids can thus be used to treat disorders in which the ECS is involved.

Phytocannabinoids as medicine
The function of ECS can be modulated by endo-, phyto- or synthetic- cannabinoids. A range of scientific, clinical and anecdotal evidence supports the use of cannabinoid in treating different disorders, particularly using the phytocannabinoids cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These compounds (CBD and THC) are the most researched of the phytocannabinoids due to their abundance within the cannabis plant. However, ongoing research into other phytocannabinoids such as cannabinol (CBN) cannabigerol (CBG), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) indicates these also may contain unique medicinal properties.

A brief history of the endocannabinoid system.

The history of the endocannabinoid system begun when Dr Raphael Mechoulam identified the structure of THC in 1964. Approximately 30 years later in 1988, scientists discovered a receptor in rats’ brains that was activated by THC. This receptor (CB1) was prevalent throughout the brain and central nervous system. Five years later saw the second cannabinoid receptor (CB2) located in the immune system of rats. With two cannabinoid sensitive receptors identified, scientists attempted to elucidate why there was such a strong prevalence of cannabinoid sensitive receptors.

1992 saw the discovery of the first endocannabinoid, anandamide which activated both cannabinoid receptors but showed a stronger affinity for the CB1 receptor. Three years later, the second endocannabinoid, 2-arachidonodoylglycerol (2-AG) was discovered. This endocannabinoid also attaches to both CB1 and CB2 receptors.

With two cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) and two endogenous cannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG) discovered, scientists had identified the presence of the endocannabinoid system. This was named due to the functional similarity between the endocannabinoids and previously discovered phytocannabinoids such as CBD and THC. The discovery of the endocannabinoid system has since triggered the scientific interest in cannabis and its potential medical applications that we see today.


Cannabidiol (CBD) is also known to modulate the effects of THC. Although CBD has a low affinity for the CB1 receptor, it can decrease the affinity of THC at CB1 receptor, reducing the potential psychoactive effects of THC. This may be important to the efficacy of combined cannabinoid therapy (i.e. 1:1 CBD:THC medicines). The complex nature of cannabinoid medicines combined with the potential applications presents an exciting future for cannabinoid research.

Although THC and CBD are the two most researched phytocannabinoids, many other cannabinoids are present in the cannabis plant (over 100 currently known). Some of these have been identified and studied including CBG, which binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors and can moderate the effects of THC. Other cannabinoids are produced in much lower amount in the plant or may be degradation products of other cannabinoids (THC degrades to cannabinol/CBN). These minor cannabinoids can be split into cannabinoid subsets such as cannabichromenes (CBC), cannabinols (CBN), cannabicyclols (CBL) and many others. With the diverse range of phytocannabinoids present in different strains of cannabis, emerging scientific research has a lot to contribute to the field of medicinal cannabis.

The presence of the ECS and the way phytocannabinoids interact with the cannabinoid receptors suggests strong potential for the efficacy of cannabis as a medicine. Also, the diverse range of bodily functions governed by the ECS, indicates the potential disorders that may be treated by cannabinoid medicines. Along with this, ongoing research continues to support the efficacy of medical cannabis and points to the potential for cannabis to become an effective medicine. Cannasouth aims to play a major role in the research and development of novel medicinal cannabis-based therapeutic products.