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What is the Endocannabinoid System? (ECS)

Not long ago, Dr Dustin Sulak did an article for NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). The article discussed the human endocannabinoid system in simple, easy...

Not long ago, Dr Dustin Sulak did an article for NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). The article discussed the human endocannabinoid system in simple, easy to understand terms

In it, he described the ways in which plant-based cannabinoids (called phytocannabinoids) interact with naturally-occurring receptors in our bodies to regulate and maintain an astonishingly wide range of bodily functions. So many things, he said, seem to be in some way connected to this vast internal molecular system that each and every one of us has.


Not just us as humans; Dr Sulak also mentioned in his YouTube video below that his research shows every living vertebrate animal – from horses and dogs to “sea squirts and nematodes” – also have an endocannabinoid system which responds to the effects of the active molecular compounds in cannabis.

How is this possible? How is it that nearly every living thing on earth has an innate molecular system that governs virtually all aspects of health, homeostasis, survival, and reproduction? And how is it that this system can be so influenced and manipulated by compounds in the cannabis plant?

Well, as it turns out, natural cannabis compounds have a near-identical chemical structure as the human compounds (specifically anandamide and 2-AG) that govern the endocannabinoid system.

For this reason, Dr Sulak has described the endocannabinoid system as “perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health,” and has illustrated it as a potential bridge between body and mind that oversees molecular actions on our organs, cells, nerves, and immune system, among many other things.


Cannabinoid receptors have been found in virtually every cell and tissue type in the human body. In fact, some researchers believe they may be the most prominent and abundant receptor in humans. They are located in the membranes of various cell types, and when they’re activated, they can “stimulate” cells to carry out dozens – if not hundreds or thousands – of different responses.

Under “healthy” conditions, the receptors are stimulated by the aforementioned endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG, which are produced naturally by the body.

If/when there is a deficiency in the production or functioning of these compounds (a condition known as endocannabinoid deficiency). The receptors are unable to be stimulated, and thus the cells and corresponding organs are not able to function properly or maintain homeostasis (balance) throughout the body.

This is where phyto-cannabinoids from the cannabis plant can come in.

In the event of a deficiency or malfunctioning of the human compounds anandamide or 2-AG, plant-based cannabinoids may be able to effectively “take their place” and stimulate the cannabinoid receptors on their own, thereby allowing cells to carry out their specific functions and return the body back to a relative state of homeostasis.

Keeping in mind, not all cannabinoids will get you "high" like THC. In fact, THC is the only currently known cannabinoid that produces are psychoactive effect. This is why many people choose hemp, which is the zero-THC cousin of marijuana. Marijuana is bred to contain high levels of THC.

Moreover, what’s so incredible about these cannabinoid compounds and their receptors is their “multi-function” capabilities. In other words, they appear to be able to “instruct” the cell to carry out a number of different functions, depending on what exactly the body needs to return to a state of balance.

Read our new 2-part series on the ECS here.


Phytocannabinoids can supplement the endocannabinoid system

In addition to the seemingly “straightforward” physiologic effects that they have on our cellular receptors, Dr Sulak also suggests that cannabinoids can play a crucial role in much larger social and environmental scales.

For example, he believes natural cannabis compounds have the ability to alter our relationship with the environment around us, and allow us to adapt in a positive way to the myriad of changes (whether physical, emotional, etc) that we face on a day-to-day basis.

Cannabinoids improve our quality of life

These changes, in combination with the ability of cannabinoids to promote the growth and development of new nerve cells, may improve our open-mindedness and allow us to transcend “limiting patterns of thought and behavior” – a crucial step in maintaining total body/mind health in a perpetually changing environment.

In this way, we begin to understand from a scientific perspective how cannabis in general – may truly be a molecular bridge between body and mind.

If you want to learn more about the ECS, check out our recent article how full-spectrum hemp oil acts upon the ECS

We've recently put together a more comprehensive 2-part series on the endocannabinoid system here if you would like to read it.

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