*Trial BITES excluded

The Endocannabinoid System

on April 21, 2023

There are so many things to say about the Endocannabinoid System, now more broadly and accurately referred to as the Endocannabinoid Dome (ECD), because it's so much more than a system that works unilaterally. Today, we will keep it simple at the ECS level and, later, more on why and what we all mean when we talk about Endocannabinoid Dome.  

The Endocannabinoid System is a magical system; it has been a secret system that, until recently, no one was really talking about outside of the science community. EVERY being, except insects, has this system, and its main job is to work with and manage all the systems in the body to correct, manage and maintain homeostasis (balance) in the body.  

Think of all the systems you've heard about, read about, or studied: Circulatory, Pulmonary, Central, Muscular, Skeletal, Enteric, and more… all these we learn in elementary through high school, but… no Endocannabinoid System? And for the longest time, it's been thought the Central Nervous System controlled them all. It doesn't.

More and more people are interested in healing beings naturally, and still, we have a long way to go to come in line with those ancient healing practices. So much more goes into wellness and healing than one substance to address one thing in a system or two in the body. You'll hear us say this ALL the time; it's NEVER one thing, wellness and healing are practices. What better way to honor ourselves and our animals than to embark on the journey of healing and wellness? Think of the Endocannabinoid System as the biophysical model of how we heal. As Dr. Rachel Knox, a cannabinoid medicine specialist and clinical endocannabinologist, put it, "supreme to and unlike all the rest of the systems in the body." Until the Endocannabinoid System discovery in 1988, this system was never talked about and was basically unknown. 

The Endocannabinoid System is a 600 million + year old system (and we discovered and named it 35ish years ago) fundamental to managing balance in the system. There is not one function in the body that is not regulated or influenced by the Endocannabinoid System. Think of it as the body's central exchange. A network functioning with and across all bodily functions and organs working with internal and external stimuli to, in some or many ways, manage all parts of the health of the being (dog, arachnid, reptile, horse, hawk, human, etc.). In the simplest way possible, we can break this system down into 4 key components:

  1. Cannabinoid Receptors – CB1R, CB2R, etc.
    • CB1 receptors are found throughout the body, mainly/mostly in the central nervous system, and, in dogs and cats and perhaps other species, there are more concentrated CB1R's in the hindbrain (medulla oblongata, pons, cerebellum) and more homogenous distribution of CB1 and CB2 receptors in all epidermal layers – in humans, disbursement is more diffuse, and humans have more nucleated layers of cells (7-8 cell layers opposed to dog and cat of 2-3 nucleated layers). 
    • CB2 receptors are also found throughout the body, mainly/mostly playing a vital role in regulating immune response, pain, inflammation, and, really, the metabolic processes overall. It's a huge target for therapeutics aimed at treating movement disorders (ex: tremors, dystonia, peripheral nerve HE, etc., or Parkinson's in humans).
  2. Ligands – these bind to the receptors and initiate the action called 'endocannabinoid'; they're typically grouped for ease into 3 categories:
    • Endocannabinoids – body-made cannabinoids (like Anandamide (AEA) or 2-AG (2 Arachidonoylglycerol)
    • Plant-derived cannabinoids –phytocannabinoids (also called exogenous cannabinoids)
    • Synthetic cannabinoids – For example, Marinol is a synthetic THC used for patients working through pain and nausea from chemotherapy. 
  3. Synthesizing Enzymes – make the endocannabinoids when needed and on demand.
  4. Degradative Enzymes – break these endocannabinoids down when they're no longer needed (enzymes FAAH or MAHL for the body made ECB's and enzymes Cytochrome P450 for plant-made PCB's)

 An easy way to explain this, according to, again, Dr. Rachel Knox and her eloquence, it's like if you live in a condo or neighborhood with close quarters and your neighbor is being noisy – you walk over, ask them to turn it down, and the problem is alleviated. Think about how this is in the body. When something gets too noisy (anxiety, inflammation, etc.), the processes must be checked to 'turn the noise down (or up).’That’s a pretty basic and straightforward way to state how this highly complex system operates, and it totally works as a baseline. There are so many (about 43,000+ articles on the Endocannabinoid System and so many on the benefits of phytocannabinoids) research papers available to read and this is commonly mentioned as an ‘understudied’ area but it’s NOT lightly researched.  Is there room for more research?  Yes!  This isn’t lightly considered – it’s the master system in the body – the expert of them all.

In theory, our Endocannabinoid System should self-regulate; unfortunately, we don't live in a healthy world, and we've drifted or pulled away from healing vs. treating. Now, more recently, more are moving back to healing the whole being. Part of that healing is bringing our Endocannabinoid System back in line and supporting with whole nutrition, hydration, relieving stress, understanding, and practicing bodywork and kindness. Not only will this heal the community, but it will also heal our relationship with our animals and allow them to live richer, fuller lives sans all this human-induced stress.

Supporting with phytocannabinoids consistently and/or situationally certainly contributes to much of the wellness we strive to attain. It's never one thing – we'll never, with any product, be able to outdose (doesn't matter the vendor) stressful environments; we can support the journey to wellness in times of stress, pain, and illness. Consistently supporting and being conscious of how we are to ourselves, our animal family members and wildlife will heal much.


~ Kirstan



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