CBD & The Endocannabinoid System – What is it?

In the last few years, cannabidiol (also known as CBD) has become one of the most-talked about substances in the world of health. Many people understand the basic facts relating to the CBD – such as its association with the cannabis plant, and the ways in which some people use it – but are still unclear about what it really is, how it works and why people may be interested in taking it. 

To fully understand what cannabidiol is, it’s helpful to also have an awareness of the endocannabinoid system (or ECS) as this is the system in our bodies that CBD interacts with. We’ve put together this helpful, easy-to-follow guide to explain more about what CBD is and how it works in our bodies. 

What is the Endocannabinoid System? 

The ECS is a biological system that helps our bodies to maintain ‘homeostasis’, the stable environment needed for our bodies to function as normal. Its discovery is relatively recent, with researchers only identifying the ECS’ existence in the 1990s. While researching the effects of cannabis on the body, scientists found that one of the ways that the drug works is by mimicking molecules in our body that are actually very similar to cannabinoids found in cannabis. 


These so-called ‘endocannabinoids’ (also known as endogenous cannabinoids) are produced by our own bodies to help keep our internal systems functioning correctly. Research hasn’t yet been able to identify any baseline statistics for how many endocannabinoids our bodies produce, or how often they do so, but it’s thought that they’re produced as needed. 

Although not conclusively proven, some experts suggest that an endocannabinoid deficiency could be a contributing factor to some people developing conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or migraines. This would suggest that endocannabinoids play a crucial role in the day-to-day functioning of our systems. 

Endocannabinoids are an essential component of the ECS, along with receptors and enzymes. 

Receptors and Enzymes 

Receptors are the molecules that endocannabinoids bind to in the ECS. They are found in two main places: 

● The central nervous system (including the brain and spinal chord) – these receptors are known as CB1 receptors 

● The peripheral nervous system (nerves outside of the brain and spinal chord) – these are known as CB2 receptors 

The effect that this binding has is entirely dependant on a number of factors, including where in the body it takes place. 

Enzymes are the final key component of the ECS. They work to break down the endocannabinoid once it has done what it was supposed to do. 

What Does the ECS Do? 

As it was only discovered in recent decades, research into the ECS is still in its infancy. The overall purpose of the system is still relatively unknown, but it has been connected to the smooth running of a number of internal processes including metabolism, mood, digestion, sleep, bone growth, liver function and more. 

Cannabis and the ECS 

As mentioned, it is thought that one of the reasons that cannabis has an effect on the human body is because the cannabinoids are able to act in a very similar way to our body’s natural endocannabinoids – that is, by binding with CB1 and CB2 receptors and sending signals to our nervous systems. However, the way that these compounds interact once binded can vary depending on the compound. 

THC is one of the best-known cannabinoids found in cannabis, and is the one associated with feeling ‘high’. THC can have what can be regarded as a number of ‘positive’ effects on the body when it binds to receptors, such as pain relief and stress relief. However, it can also produce more negative reactions, which are commonly associated with the drug. These include anxiety, paranoia and depression. 

Cannabidiol, on the other hand, reacts with receptors in a different way. But what is CBD? 

What is CBD? 

As mentioned, cannabidiol is another compound found in cannabis (along with THC and around 100 other compounds). It is the second most prevalent of the compounds, but in contrast to THC, it does not get a user ‘high’. As such, it is not illegal – and in fact, an increasing number of medical studies are showing that the compound could have a positive effect on health conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes and arthritis. While this research is still in its early phases, many people around the world are also ingesting CBD to help balance their mood, help their sleep and control their appetite. 

How Does CBD Work with the Endocannabinoid System? 

So, how does CBD work within the ECS? It is thought to interact with the system in a different way to endocannabinoids and THC. Whereas they bond to the receptors, CBD is thought to prevent the breakdown of other endocannabinoids – specifically those linked to mental function, mood control and pain. By preventing this breakdown, signals are not blocked and more of the chemicals are present in the system. 

Taking CBD in the UK 

The most popular way that people take CBD is via CBD oil. This is made almost entirely from cannabidiol, meaning that it will contain hardly any levels of THC and therefore none of the negative side effects associated with the compound. It has also been legal in the UK since 2018 (as long as any trace levels of THC are 0.3% or lower), and was even classified as an unrestricted substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2017, meaning that athletes are allowed to use it. 

There are a number of ways that CBD oil can be taken, and over the last twelve months products have become more and more sophisticated. It can now be taken in the following ways: 

● E-liquid, which can be inhaled using a vape 

● Edibles, such as capsules or gummies, that can be taken in a similar way to vitamin supplements 

● Massage oils and balms that can be applied topically to the skin 

● Bath products 

● Infused drinks, such as tea, coffee or the newly-released sports drinks 

The interaction of the CBD with the endocannabinoid system is the same regardless of how it is consumed (though strengths may vary from product to product), and so people can choose the CBD product that best fits their lifestyle. 

For more information on CBD or our infused sports drink, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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