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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

The Body’s Endocannabinoid System


THE BODY’S BUILT-IN ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM Cannabis as medicine is not a new concept. Its medicinal use dates back thousands of years – at least 1,000 years BCE in India and 5,000 years BCE in China. Before its prohibition in the West, major pharmaceutical companies offered a wide variety of cannabis-based medicines, with 1840 to 1937 being the “golden age” for cannabis medicine. (Leonard-Johnson & Rappoport, 2014) What IS new is the 1992 discovery that mammalian bodies come with a built in endocannabinoid system (ECS) composed of endogenous neuro-modulatory lipids and cannabinoid receptors located in our brains and in cell membranes located throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems. The ECS system is involved in a variety of important physiological processes – including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, memory, and in mediating the psychoactive effects of cannabis. (Leonard-Johnson & Rappoport, 2014) & (Wikipedia, 2016) “Also discovered was that the cannabis plant is loaded with phytocannabinoids (plant cannabinoids) that can stimulate the ECS receptor sites of this system. It is this combined discovery that is leading cannabis, in all forms, back into the limelight again as a viable medicine.” (Leonard-Johnson & Rappoport, 2014)


In the graphic above you’ll notice two types of endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. Here is a simplified explanation of how they serve the body: The endocannabinoid system is basically a hormone regulation system for the body. CB1 receptors’ function is to ‘excite’ hormones and neuro-hormone activity while CB2 receptors’ function is to ‘inhibit’ hormone and neuro-hormone activity. This excite/inhibit interplay between the two types of receptors determines how well the body is able to keep its various systems in a healthy balance – in homeostasis. (Leonard-Johnson & Rappoport, 2014) The body’s endocannabinoid system “is involved in many important functions, including initiating a host of physiological and psychological changes needed to adjust to ever-changing internal and external environments. This is true from the very beginning of life, when ECS signaling determines if a fertilized egg will implant in the uterine wall or not. Throughout our life the ECS produces nurturing responses to injuries and inflammations. it is involved in protective mechanisms against numerous cancers, neurological diseases, and nerve damage, and it may mitigate changes associated with aging.” (Blesching, 2015) THE THREE TYPES OF CANNABINOIDS

  1. ENDOGENOUS CANNABINOIDS – cannabinoids produced by the body’s own endocannabinoid system

  2. PHYTOCANNABINOIDS – cannabinoids produced by plants

  3. SYNTHETIC CANNABINOIDS – cannabinoids synthetically engineered in labs

All three types of cannabinoids function as neuro-modulators in the body, essential for keeping all our bodily systems stable and in balance. (Leonard-Johnson & Rappoport, 2014) DEFINITIONS: CBD VS THC


CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-intoxicating compound in cannabis possessing significant therapeutic properties.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the compound in marijuana plants that causes the intoxicating high.  “It also has some excellent therapeutic properties. Actually, THC, ‘The High Causer,’ has awesome therapeutic properties. Scientists at the Scripps Research Center in San Diego reported that THC inhibits an enzyme implicated in the formation of beta-amyloid plaque, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s-related dementia. The federal government recognizes single-molecule THC (Marinol) as an anti-nausea compound and appetite booster, deeming it a Schedule III drug, a category reserved for medicinal substances with little abuse potential. But whole plant marijuana, the only natural source of THC, continues to be classified as a dangerous Schedule I drug with no medical value.” (Lee, 2015)



  • Cannabis is an effective treatment for glaucoma

  • It helps reverse the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and improves lung health

  • Cannabis helps control epileptic seizures

  • It also decreases the symptoms of a severe seizure disorder known as Dravet’s Syndrome

  • Cannabidiol (CBD), a major chemical found in cannabis, stops cancer from spreading

  • It alleviates anxiety and depression

  • THC slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease

  • Cannabis eases the pain of multiple sclerosis

  • Cannabis helps other types of muscle spasms too

  • It lessens side effects from pharmaceuticals used to treat hepatitis C and increases treatment effectiveness

  • Cannabis treats inflammatory bowel conditions and diseases

  • It relieves arthritis discomfort

  • Cannabis alleviates pain, reduces inflammation, and promotes sleep

  • It improves metabolism and the body’s reaction to sugars

  • Cannabis reduces the symptoms of systemic lupus ertyhematosus

  • It spurs creativity in the brain

  • Cannabis reduces Crohn’s disease symptoms and can even lead to complete remission of the disease

  • It reduces the tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease

  • Cannabis aids veterans suffering from PTSD

  • It protects the brain after a stroke

  • Cannabis may protect the brain from concussions and trauma

  • It can help eliminate nightmares

  • Cannabis reduces pain and nausea caused by chemo and stimulates appetite

  • It’s safer than alcohol and can help people trying to cut back on drinking

(Welsh & Loria, 2014)


Here’s another list of some other conditions and diseases shown to be helped by medical marijuana:

  • Symptoms related to aging

  • Anorexia and cachexia

  • Bacterial infections (including gonorrhea & MRSA)

  • Viral infections (including  cough, encephalitis, hepatitis, herpes, HIV/AIDS)

  • Cancers (including cancers of the bone, brain, cervix, colon, liver, lung, pancreas, prostate, skin,  thyroid; Kaposi’s sarcoma, leukemia, lymphoma, rhabdomyosarcoma)

  • Cardiovascular diseases (including heart disease, hypertension, stroke)

  • Diabetes mellitus

  • Eye diseases and functions (including macular degeneration, glaucoma, night vision, uveitis)

  • Fever/temperature regulation

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Hemorrhoids

  • Inflammatory diseases (including arthritis, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, GERD, IBD/IBS, pancreatitis, periodontitis)

  • Insomnia

  • Libido problems

  • Lung diseases (including asthma & COPD)

  • Mental disorders (including ADD, ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia)

  • Neurological diseases (including Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, Huntington’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome)

  • OB/GYN difficulties (including miscarriage, fertility, childbirth pain, endometriosis, menstrual pain, morning sickness)

  • Osteoporosis

  • Pain (including chronic non-malignant pain, migraines, neuropathies, advanced cancer)

  • Mad cow disease

  • Sickle cell disease

  • Skin diseases( including acne, eczema, hirsutism, hair loss, pruritis, psoriasis, seborrhea, systemic sclerosis)

  • Vomiting (from chemo-induced nausea & motion sickness)

  • Wound care (including fractured bones, post-op wounds, spinal cord injuries)

(Blesching, 2015)

If any of the medical symptoms, conditions or diseases listed above concern you, I recommend consulting Blesching’s highly informative book The Cannabis Health Index: Combining the Science of Medical Marijuana with Mindfulness Techniques To Heal 100 Chronic Symptoms and Diseases – Combining the Science of Medical Marijuana with Mindfulness Techniques to Heal 100 Chronic Symptoms and Diseases. It contains a wealth of useful information.


If it seems unlikely that cannabis could help such an enormous and  disparate array of medical problems, taking a look at how pervasively cannabinoid receptors are distributed throughout our bodies will be illuminating.


IS CANNABIS SAFE? “Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use. “Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.

“And all the way at the bottom of the list? Weed — roughly 114 times less deadly than booze, according to the authors, who ran calculations that compared lethal doses of a given substance with the amount that a typical person uses. Marijuana is also the only drug studied that posed a low mortality risk to its users. “These findings reinforce drug-safety rankings developed 10 years ago under a slightly different methodology. So in that respect, the study is more of a reaffirmation of previous findings than anything else. But given the current national and international debates over the legal status of marijuana and the risks associated with its use, the study arrives at a good time.”  (Ingraham, 2015)


RESOURCES: BOOKS & WEBSITES Here are three useful books and two websites for learning more about the many health benefits of cannabinoil (CBD-rich hemp oil) and medical marijuana:

I was unable to track down the accuracy or the year the figures on this chart are supposed to represent but the graphic nevertheless makes the point about the relative danger of overdosing on cannabis so I decided to include it:




Adequate nutrition is required for maintaining a healthy endocannabinoid system in the body – especially a sufficient level of Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Omega-3 EFA’s are important nutritional precursors the body employs to produce its own endocannabinoids. A body deficient in Omega-3 EFAs can suffer from deformed or broken CB1 receptors in the brain and destabilized behavior. (Leonard-Johnson & Rappaport, 2014). Omega-3 fatty acids are brain-boosting, cholesterol-clearing, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory healthy fatty acids. They also benefit our joints, skin, vision, heart – and even boost fertility. The body’s endocannabinoid system CB1 receptors cannot grow or work properly if they’re starved of Omega-3 fatty acids – and many of us are Omega-3 deficient.


Omega-3 essential fatty acids:

  • Lubricate joints to prevent wear and tear – hence less inflammation and pain.

  • Fight wrinkles by making our skin’s third layer thicker and smoother.

  • Protect vision – eye health is dependent on having a healthy liver. The liver helps metabolize fat-soluble vitamins that nourish and maintain the  membranes of the eyes.

  • Maintain a healthy heart – Omega-3s reduce triglycerides, stabilize the heartbeat, make platelets less sticky, and also lower blood pressure.

  • Prevent or improve acne – an inadequate intake of Omega-3 fatty acids contributes to acne-prone skin.

  • Clear cholesterol while boosting levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) and help keep the arteries clear.

  • Alter neuro-transmitters in the brain to prevent or reduce depression

  • Improve fertility rates in males and females by increasing sperm motility and creating a healthy environment for implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb

  • Are a prerequisite for creating a healthy baby. Omega-3s are essential to brain development in the fetus. When an expectant mother’s Omega-3 level is low in these essential fatty acids, the fetus borrows from her body.

– (Leonard-Johnson & Rappaport, 2014)


For further information on Omega-3 EFAs, see Omega-3 versus Omega-6 Fatty Acids (Hardin, 2014). And finally, this harks back to the question of whether cannabis is safe:


REFERENCES Backes, M. (2014).  Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana – Evidence-based information on using cannabis for ailments and conditions, plus a comprehensive guide to the most popular varieties. See: Blesching, U. (2015). The Cannabis Health Index: Combining the Science of Medical Marijuana with Mindfulness Techniques To Heal 100 Chronic Symptoms and Diseases – Combining the Science of Medical Marijuana with Mindfulness Techniques to Heal 100 Chronic Symptoms and Diseases. See: Hardin, J.R. (2014). Omega-3 versus Omega-6 Fatty Acids. See: Healthy Hemp Oil. (2014). Everything You Need to Know About Buying CBD Oil Online. Ingraham, C. (2015). Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say: New study – We should stop fighting marijuana legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead. See: Lee, M.A. (2015). CBD Misconceptions. Project CBD. See: Leonard-Johnson, S. & Rappaport, T. (2014). CBD-Rich Hemp Oil: Cannabis Medicine is Back. See: Welsh, J. & Loria, K. (2014). 23 Health Benefits Of Marijuana. Business Insider: Science. See: Wikipedia. (9/5/2016). The Endocannabinoid System. See: © Copyright 2016. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Comments submitted prior to 8/25/2021

Interesting information. I have been aware for some time of the efficacy of cannabis in medicinal form for seizure disorders and to counter the anorexic effects of chemotherapy and the involuntary weight loss of HIV-AIDS. I think it is important to stress the potential effects of

recreational cannabis use on certain forms of mental illness. It may trigger temporary psychosis (delusions, hallucinations, etc) in certain individuals, and is believed to precipitate manifestation of psychosis where a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia exists. In “Assessing evidence for a causal link between cannabis and psychosis: A review of

cohort studies” (International Journal of Drug Policy 21 (2010) 10–19), authors McLaren, Silins, Hutchinson, Mattick, and Hall stated: “The studies reviewed above have pointed to the importance of psychosis vulnerability in the cannabis and psychosis association. It seems most likely that cannabis produces psychotic disorders in individuals who possess an underlying vulnerability to psychosis,” and “Cannabis use during adolescence significantly increased the risk of developing nonaffective psychosis later in life but only in those individuals who experienced sexual trauma during childhood. Ref. 94.”


So happy you’ve provided this valuable information! Numerous pharmaceutical companies are now throwing big money into lobbying efforts to keep marijuana illegal. In places where cannabis is legal, opioid use decreases, which, of course, negatively impacts pharmaceutical profits. Some of the very companies lobbying to keep cannabis illegal are concurrently creating drugs with cannabis extracts, hoping to make a profit. Insys Therapeutics, for example, has donated a half-million dollars to the cannabis anti-legalization campaign–and the FDA recently approve that company’s second cannabis-based drug, this one for appetite stimulation, to be used by cancer and HIV patients. Of course, straight-up cannabis does the same thing–boosts the appetite (if you use the correct strain, that is). No “cannabis-based drug” manufactured by a pharmaceutical company is needed at all. With a few seeds, we can grow our own marijuana. The public is being fleeced. And we’re being denied a valuable health aid. Z. Watson, R.N.

Member American Cannabis Nurses Association

Z. Watson

In reply to Z. Watson

Thanks, Zell. Yet another instance of the public’s being fleeced.

Joan Hardin

In reply to Sonnische

Good information. Thanks so much, Sonnische.

Joan Hardin


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