endocannabinoid system and CBD

The Endocannabinoid System Explained

Most of us learned about various systems in the body back in high school biology. You may remember (at least vaguely) learning about body structure, the circulatory, respiratory, musculoskeletal, digestive, nervous, reproductive, and immune systems. But there was likely one entire system left out: the endocannabinoid system. And that’s left many people wondering what the endocannabinoid system is and CBD’s effects on it. 

So, what is the endocannabinoid system, and why didn’t we learn about it in school? 

While the endocannabinoid system has evolved in mammals for over 500 million years, it wasn’t discovered until the early 1990s by researchers who were studying cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. Since that discovery, researchers have found that cannabinoids affect sleep, mood, appetite, memory, reproduction, and more. 

And the endocannabinoid system is active even for those who don’t use cannabinoids like CBD, THC, or others found in the cannabis plant. Interestingly, cannabinoids can be found in other plants such as licorice, echinacea, cacao, and black pepper. The body also produces endocannabinoids or endogenous cannabinoids.

endocannabinoid system and CBD

Photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash

How Do the Endocannabinoid  System and CBD Work Together?There are three core components of the endocannabinoid system: the cannabinoid compounds, receptors, and enzymes. And two main types of endocannabinoids—anandamide (AEA) and  2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)—are produced by the body as needed to run smoothly or keep the body in homeostasis. 

Homeostasis is any process the body uses to maintain a constant environment internally even in the face of external factors. It’s the process that allows the body to function normally when it comes to:

  • Body temperature
  • Respiration
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Fluid levels
  • Blood glucose levels
  • And sleep

Throughout the body are receptors (or cell proteins) the endocannabinoids can bind to. Two main receptors are CB1, which is primarily found in the central nervous system, and CB2, which is found in the peripheral nervous system, including immune cells. CB1 receptors, for example, are highly concentrated in the brain, lungs, vascular system, muscles, reproductive organs, and digestive system. CB2, on the other hand, is found more commonly in the bones, skin, spleen, and glial cells (found in the brain).

Where the receptor is located and which cannabinoid (endo or from plant cannabinoid) it binds to determines how it affects the body. For instance, some endocannabinoids help relieve pain or decrease inflammation. Others may support immune cells. And others may affect mood or cognitive functioning. 

The third core component of the endocannabinoid system is the enzymes that are needed to break down endocannabinoids, including the fatty acid amide hydrolase and monoacylglycerol acid lipase. 

Why Is the Endocannabinoid System Important?

Research is still early, and experts are still learning about the important functions of the endocannabinoid system. So far, they’ve discovered the system is linked to:

  • Digestion, appetite, and metabolism
  • Pain and inflammation
  • Immune response
  • Mood, memory, learning, and stress response
  • Motor control
  • Sleep
  • Muscle and bone strength and growth as well as motor control
  • Cardiovascular and reproductive system function
  • Skin, nerve, and liver function

The common element that affects all the above functions is how they contribute to homeostasis or the stability of your whole body. This, researchers contend, is the main role of the endocannabinoid system.

endocannabinoid system and CBD

Photo by Esther kowanda

The Endocannabinoid System and CBD

There are two main (and dozens of other) cannabinoids found in cannabis plants: THC or tetrahydrocannabinol and CBD or cannabidiol. 

THC is the phyto or plant cannabinoid that’s most well-known for its psychoactive effects or its ability to get you stoned or “high.” It’s also been shown to help reduce pain and stimulate appetite. Negative effects include causing anxiety and even paranoia in some people or when too much is consumed. 

In contrast, CBD doesn’t make you high and may even help counteract the high when people get too much THC. It also doesn’t come with the negative effects of THC like increased anxiety. 

Research is still needed to understand how CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system. It doesn’t appear to bind to the CB1 or CB2 receptors in the same way THC does. Rather, it’s believed to potentially prevent the natural endocannabinoids in the body from breaking down, so they can have more beneficial effects on the body. Or, there are other receptors in the body that CBD binds to that have not yet been discovered.

Even though the mechanism hasn’t been clarified, CBD has been found to help relieve pain, nausea, stress, anxiety, and other issues.

CBD for the Endocannabinoid System in Animals

The endocannabinoid system isn’t only found in humans. In fact, it’s pervasive in all mammals as well as invertebrate species. Because of the system’s importance in homeostasis, we’re now seeing research on our canine companions as well. 

For instance, researchers are finding CBD’s effects on the endocannabinoid system may help target:

  • Pain management
  • Neurologic disorders
  • Stress and anxiety
  • And inflammation

Because the endocannabinoid system is universal to all animals (except insects), CBS provides similar benefits. As well, the CB1 receptors are very similar among all mammals. That said, there do seem to be differences in the CB2 receptors in humans vs. dogs, so the signaling pathways may differ. 

This may explain why THC toxicity is higher in dogs than in humans, for instance. Fortunately, the safety profile for CBD given to dogs in moderate amounts is good. Research from a Colorado State University study from 2018 demonstrates it is safe for dogs.

Specific benefits of CBD for the endocannabinoid system in dogs may include:

  • Promoting greater mobility and activity levels
  • Decreased discomfort due to age or injury
  • Help protect neurons
  • Help lessen stress levels to keep your pet calm 
  • Support healthy skin and ease conditions that lead to hair loss and rashes
  • Promote wound healing
  • And promote better focus and attention. 

The Endocannabinoid System and CBD Takeaway

This is an exciting time as we continue to learn more about the endocannabinoid system and CBD. We don’t yet have a full picture as more research is needed. That said, the research results and anecdotal reports are very promising for both humans and their furry friends. 

Ready to explore more CBD distillate uses for pets and how the best CBD for pets—ABSC Organics—can help your pet live a more vibrant, healthy life? Get started here

Related Information: 



Silver RJ. The endocannabinoid system of animals. Animals. 2019 Sep 16;9(9):686. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6770351/

Martin BR, Dewey WL, Harris LS, Beckner JS. 3H-delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol tissue and subcellular distribution in the central nervous system and tissue distribution in peripheral organs of tolerant and nontolerant dogs. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. 1976 Jan 1;196(1):128-44. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1246007/

McGrath S, Bartner LR, Rao S, Kogan LR, Hellyer PW. A report of adverse effects associated with the administration of cannabidiol in healthy dogs. Vet Med. 2018;1:6-8. https://www.ahvma.org/wp-content/uploads/AHVMA-2018-V52-CannabisAdverseEffects.pdf

Taylor L, Gidal B, Blakey G, Tayo B, Morrison G. A phase I, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, single ascending dose, multiple dose, and food effect trial of the safety, tolerability and pharmacokinetics of highly purified cannabidiol in healthy subjects. CNS Drugs. 2018 Nov;32(11):1053-67. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40263-018-0578-5

Lucas CJ, Galettis P, Schneider J. The pharmacokinetics and the pharmacodynamics of cannabinoids. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2018 Nov;84(11):2477-82. https://bpspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/bcp.13710

Millar SA, Stone NL, Yates AS, O’Sullivan SE. A systematic review on the pharmacokinetics of cannabidiol in humans. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2018 Nov 26;9:1365. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2018.01365/full