Cannabis treatment and the endocannabinoid system: Everything patients need to know

Apr 24, 2023

Cannabis treatment and the endocannabinoid system: Everything patients need to knowThe endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a receptor system that has a major impact on the functioning of the human body and our health. It influences everything from appetite, sleep, pain to memory, mental state to responses to inflammatory processes and much more. By regulating what is known as homeostasis, the ECS ensures that all parts of the body work in harmony with each other.

To understand how the ECS works in the body, it is essential to understand the concept of homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to the way the body regulates, for example, water content, blood sugar levels, and more. In order for our bodies to function properly, they must be in balance for us to be healthy and feel mentally and physically well.

Our body has a fantastic ability to establish homeostasis through a negative feedback system. This means that the body is constantly monitoring itself, and, when something goes wrong, it can be fixed. And that’s the main job of the endocannabinoid system.

Recent discoveries

We have only known about the existence of ECS for about 25 years. It was discovered in the 1990s when scientists mainly in Israel were trying to find out how THC, the main psychoactive substance in cannabis, affects our bodies. And what they found was absolutely revolutionary. They were able to identify a network of receptors, biochemical pathways and enzymes that interact with (not only) the substances found in marijuana and thus affect our bodies.

Along with the discovery of ECS came the discovery of compounds that our body makes itself – so-called endocannabinoids (“endo” means “body’s own”), which are similar in their effects and actions to those produced by the cannabis plant.

The three main pieces of the ECS puzzle are:

– endocannabinoids

– cannabinoid receptors

– Enzymes that degrade endocannabinoids


You’ve probably heard of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. They act as chemical messengers in our nervous system, passing messages back and forth between receptors in the body. Endocannabinoids also function as messengers and are produced throughout the body.

The two best known endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). They bind to cannabinoid receptors in the same way as the cannabinoids in cannabis (e.g., THC).

Anandamide was named by its discoverer Lumír Hanuš after the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss”. It is involved in many essential bodily functions, such as affecting memory and appetite. Scientists have even recently come up with the claim that it is responsible for the “runner’s high” we experience after intense workouts – so it is not thanks to adrenaline.

Cannabinoid receptors

If we think of endocannabinoids as messengers travelling on horseback, then cannabinoid receptors are the sentries at the wall waiting for the messengers to arrive. The receptors are located on the surface of the cells, waiting for neurotransmitters to bind to them.

Cannabinoid receptors are found scattered throughout the body, where they affect a variety of different cells and their responses. The type of receptor depends on the type of cell it “sits” on, which responds to different types of endocannabinoids. The two most well-known receptors within the ECS are referred to as CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors are primarily located in the brain and affect areas such as mood, memory and pain perception. They are also responsible for inducing the psychoactive effects that occur when intoxicating THC binds to these receptors. CB2 receptors are most abundant in the immune system, where they influence, among other things, inflammatory processes.


Now that we’ve introduced the messenger and receiver system, let’s talk about how they are created. Endocannabinoids are lipid-based substances, which means they are formed from fats. Our body has many different types of enzymes that work to convert fat into anandamide, 2-AG, and others. When your ECS recognizes that it’s time to produce endocannabinoids, the enzymes go to work.

Cannabinoids and their therapeutic effects

Cannabinoids are substances of natural origin that are produced in the flowers of the cannabis plant and are key players in trying to relieve patients of a long list of symptoms of many diseases. Most often, cannabis treatment is officially used to relieve pain or for treating neurological problems (muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis, etc.), but it is thanks to the collaboration with the ECS that cannabinoids have the potential to positively influence a truly wide range of health problems.

You are probably already familiar with the two most well-known cannabinoids THC and CBD, but more than 140 different cannabinoids have been discovered in cannabis and we are learning more about them every day. Because they are produced by the plant, they are also known as phytocannabinoids (phyto means “from the plant”).

Their effects mimic those of endocannabinoids, the “body’s own” cannabinoids mentioned above. Simply put, cannabinoids from cannabis can act in a similar way to endocannabinoids when there is a problem in the body that can be addressed by activating (or deactivating) the ECS.

For example, as already mentioned, THC binds most strongly to CB1 receptors in the brain, whereas CBD interacts with other receptors, often by mechanisms other than activating these receptors (e.g., by inhibiting their activity).

What is THC

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, has received the most attention because it is the most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis, inducing the characteristic ‘high’ and altered consciousness. But it is also highly valued for its diverse therapeutic effects, which have been demonstrated in hundreds of scientific studies and which help cannabis patients around the world.

One of the most common uses of THC in human medicine is for pain relief. Although other cannabinoids can provide some pain relief, studies show that THC is the most effective in this regard. Many patients also rely on THC for the treatment of psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (e.g., as a result of a car accident, rape, etc.). Studies and patients’ experiences, particularly in Israel and the United States, have repeatedly confirmed that THC can even act as an antidepressant, dissipating bad moods and alleviating anxiety.

In addition, THC has been shown to help with problems such as muscle cramps, nausea and sleep disorders. It has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may help protect brain cells.

Although THC has many benefits, its psychotropic effects can be an insurmountable obstacle for some patients and their caregivers. Depending on the dose, this cannabinoid has the potential to cause unpleasant side effects such as confusion, anxiety, motor and cognitive impairment and changes in time perception. However, under medical supervision, these side effects are usually minimised by applying the “start low, go slow” rule, which basically means “start with small doses and increase them gradually and slowly”. This will avoid unpleasant changes in consciousness in the vast majority of cases.

What is CBD

CBD or cannabidiol is known as the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has become extremely popular in recent years, not only in official medicine but also as a healthy lifestyle supplement. The truth is that CBD is not quite non-psychoactive, as it can alter mood by alleviating anxiety and depression.

According to the World Health Organization, CBD has the ability to help with epilepsy, psychosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease and other serious conditions. The therapeutic potential of this cannabinoid is still being discovered as more research is carried out.

Entourage effect

As we said, each cannabinoid has its own specific effects, but researchers also discovered years ago that when these substances are administered together, they can have even better effects than when each one is administered separately (as is usually the case in modern medicine). This is known as the entourage effect.

Endocannabinoid deficiency

We know that the cannabinoids in cannabis can offer relief to people suffering from various chronic diseases. However, if our bodies produce their own endocannabinoids, why should we supplement them with the ones from cannabis? This is a fundamental question, and scientists believe it could be related to the fact that our bodies may have trouble producing enough of these essential endocannabinoids (or, conversely, trouble preventing their harmful overproduction).

For example, according to one of the most respected cannabis researchers, Ethan Russo, whose original field is neurology and psychopharmacology, it is very plausible that endocannabinoid deficiency is a major cause of complicated diseases such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine and other health problems that usually cannot be treated conventionally.

Because the ECS plays a role in all of our major body systems, its dysfunction could potentially cause a variety of health conditions.

The medicinal potential of cannabis

Before cannabis was banned worldwide in the 1930s, it was used by humans for thousands of years to treat a long list of health problems. For example, in the 19th century, most American and European households had cannabis tinctures or hashish drops in their medicine cabinet.

Although early physicians and ancient healers did not know exactly how the cannabis plant worked, they had no doubt about its effectiveness. But why don’t doctors today know more about cannabis? Unfortunately, research has long been severely limited precisely because of prohibition. What we do know for sure from the results of studies conducted around the world is that cannabis has been shown to help treat a range of symptoms in diseases such as:

– Chronic pain in any disease

– Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease

– Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

– Epilepsy

– Eating disorders

– Glaucoma

– Multiple sclerosis

– Various cancers


The endocannabinoid system consists of endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors and enzymes and its main role in the human body is to maintain homeostasis, i.e., healthy balance. The ECS is activated or deactivated when needed, and consuming cannabinoids from cannabis can help when it is not active enough as well as counterproductively hyperactive.

*The above text was written by an independent contributor and does not reflect the official views of Motagon or the guidelines for the use of Motagon products.