by Edie Horstman

what is the role of the endocannabinoid system

You are likely aware of the 11 major organ systems in the human body: circulatory, respiratory, urinary, reproductive, integumentary, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, lymphatic and digestive systems. Combined, these systems do everything from circulating blood and filtering oxygen, to allowing you to lift weights and run on the treadmill.

However, there is also the endocannabinoid system (ECS). While it is less well-known than the other major organ systems in the body, the ECS is deeply involved in establishing and maintaining human health in various ways.


The ECS was first discovered in the 1990s by Dr. L.A. Matsuda. Dr. Matsuda was the first to describe the structure and functional expression of the cannabinoid receptor, CB-1. At the time, scientists were trying to understand how THC—the primary psychoactive substance in marijuana—affected the body. What they discovered was a remarkably complex network of cannabinoid receptors (CBr) expressed in cells of both the central and peripheral nervous system.

Since then, other cannabinoid receptors have been identified as well, including cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB-2). CB-2 is found primarily in the immune system, digestive system and many of the body’s major organs.

The discovery of CB-1 and CB-2 changed everything. It prompted a hunt for the body’s own cannabinoid-like chemicals that naturally interact with these receptors. Over time, doctors, researchers and scientists have unveiled the endocannabinoid system as a whole. The ECS has three parts: endocannabinoids (cannabis-like substances that naturally occur inside the body), receptors in the nervous system and around your body (that endocannabinoids and cannabinoids bond with) and enzymes (that help break down endocannabinoids and cannabinoids).


While the size and scope of the endocannabinoid system is still being discovered, the ECS is crucial for homeostasis. The body naturally wants to keep its internal environment stable, regardless of the circumstances in the outside world. In order for homeostasis to occur, the body activates ECS to help correct it.

For example, when you’re feeling exhausted and can’t keep your eyes open, that’s ECS reminding you it’s time for sleep. When your body is perspiring at the gym, that’s ECS helping you cool down. In other words, when your temperature is too hot or too cold, your heart is beating too fast or your hormones are unbalanced, ECS steps in.

The ECS and Cannabinoid Receptors

When something is operating out of range in the body, the ECS uses cannabinoid receptors found in select tissues to initiate homeostasis. As mentioned earlier, humans have at least two types of cannabinoid receptors: CB-1 and CB-2. CB-1 is in the central nervous system (brain and nerves of the spinal cord), and CB-2 is in the peripheral nervous system (nerves in your extremities), as well as the digestive system and specialized cells in the immune system.

Through these receptors, the ECS assists in regulating a variety of important functions, such as appetite, digestion, immune function, inflammation, mood, sleep, reproduction, memory and pain. By stimulating the endocannabinoid system, CBD promotes homeostasis, reduces pain sensation and decreases inflammation.

CBD Oil as Pain Relief

Because cannabis products can stimulate activity within the ECS, they’re used to target issues like insomnia, anxiety, pain and more. In terms of pain specifically, CBD oil is known to relieve discomfort caused by arthritis, fibromyalgia, cancer, back spasms, migraines and muscle soreness. Instead of using over-the-counter prescriptions, using an alternative—like CBD oil—can provide an all-natural solution to chronic pain.

In essence, while the ECS responds to the endocannabinoids produced in the body, it also responds to external cannabinoids, like CBD. Introducing CBD to the body can help reduce the symptoms of a wide range of illnesses, and doses vary from person to person.

See below for our recommended daily dose, but please consult with your physician before incorporating CBD into your wellness routine.

Recommended Daily MG Dose
WeightEveryday WellnessMediumChronic Conditions/Pharma*
*High is very chronic pain + severe epilepsy. Low is everyday wellness.

Edie Horstman is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, wellness blogger, and freelance writer. She works with health-focused brands, co-creating content in the digital marketing space. She lives in Denver, Colorado.