Understanding the Endocannabinoid System

In the intricate orchestra of our body’s internal systems, like the well-known sympathetic nervous system responsible for our fight-or-flight reactions, there’s a relatively new player on the stage: the endocannabinoid system (ECS). 

This complex network of chemical signals and receptors, scattered throughout our brain and body, serves as the maestro of essential functions, from memory and emotions to pain management, sleep, and more. As global research and drug development efforts converge on the ECS, its role in our well-being is gaining remarkable attention.

This understanding of the ECS builds on a history that dates back to 2800 BC when plant-based remedies, including those derived from the cannabis plant, were already being employed to address a wide range of health issues. Our contemporary comprehension of how medicinal cannabis operates within the body has only emerged relatively recently, thanks to our deepening understanding of the endocannabinoid system.

What is the ECS?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) system is a biological system that was identified in the early 1990s by researchers exploring the effects of ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol  (THC), a well-known cannabinoid from cannabis plant.

The ECS is made up of internally produced cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), receptors (cannabinoid receptors)  and enzymes. It is a system that helps regulate and maintain homeostasis (more commonly known as balance) within your body.

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 and fertility

The ECS exists and is always active in your body even if you aren’t a patient using natural-therapies medicines. 


Endocannabinoids, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules produced in the body. Experts have identified two key endocannabinoids so far:

  • anandamide (AEA)
  • 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)

These help keep internal functions running smoothly. Your body produces them as needed, making it difficult to know what typical levels are for each. Enzymes are responsible for making and breaking down the endocannabinoids in the body.

Endocannabinoid receptors

Endocannabinoids work by interacting with endocannabinoid receptors. These receptors are found throughout your body. When endocannabinoids interact with them it signals that the ECS needs to take action.

There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system and brain
  • 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.

Astrid has dispensaries in Melbourne and Byron Bay
Astrid has two dispensaries in Australia, one in Byron Bay and one in Melbourne.


Enzymes are chemicals that are responsible for making and also breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function.

How do natural therapies medicines interact with the ECS?

Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids derived from plants. The phytocannabinoids are most concentrated in the glandular trichomes (hairy outgrowths) of the flowering heads of the female plant. There are over 100 phytocannabinoids in the cannabis plant as well as hundreds of non cannabinoid compounds.

Phytocannabinoids have a similar chemical structure to our endocannabinoids and can interact with the endocannabinoid receptors to elicit a response and result in the therapeutic effects of natural-therapies medicines. 

The most abundant phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant are ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)

THC is responsible for the psychoactive, intoxicating effects of cannabis, whereas CBD is non-psychoactive.

THC and the ECS

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the most prevalent phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. It can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors and can have psychoactive properties which are associated with some of the side effects of natural medicines such as increased anxiety, slower reaction times and impaired memory when taken too frequently or at too high a dose. It is also associated with beneficial effects, such as pain relief. It may improve cancer-related symptoms like increasing appetite and reducing nausea and vomiting, and improving sleep.  

Astrid dispensary is an exception to every rule, naturally.
Astrid is an exception to every rule, naturally.

CBD and the ECS

The other major cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD). Unlike THC, CBD isn’t psychoactive/intoxicating and is generally well tolerated.

Experts aren’t completely sure how CBD interacts with the ECS. But they do know that it doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors the way THC does.

While the details of how it works are still under debate, research suggests that CBD can help with pain, nausea, and other symptoms associated with multiple conditions.

The ECS consists of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes, which work together to help maintain stability in processes such as temperature, sleep, and mood.

In summary, the ECS is a biological network discovered in the 1990s through THC research. It regulates functions like sleep and mood and consists of endocannabinoids, CB1 and CB2 receptors, and enzymes.

Endocannabinoids like anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglyerol interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors, signalling the ECS. Cannabis-derived phytocannabinoids can also bind to these receptors. THC, a common phytocannabinoid, is psychoactive and relieves pain but can cause anxiety and memory issues. CBD, another major cannabinoid, isn’t psychoactive and may help with pain and nausea. The ECS stabilises processes like temperature and mood.

To learn more about natural therapies or ask any questions, please contact our team on (03) 9077 2446 or hello@astrid.health, or visit one of our dispensaries.