How does Medical Cannabis work? Deep dive into the Endocannabinoid System

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Medical cannabis, or medical marijuana, is a form of treatment that has been gaining more acceptance in modern times due to its ability to provide relief from a range of ailments and conditions. The use of medical cannabis has grown rapidly since it was made legal in many countries. The science behind medical cannabis and its effects on the body are complex and involve the endocannabinoid system. 

Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an internal network of receptors throughout the body that exist to maintain homeostasis, or balance in bodily functions. This system produces cannabinoids, which are chemicals similar to those found in cannabis plants. When these cannabinoids bind with the receptors found in the ECS, they can trigger certain reactions within the body leading to various effects, such as pain relief or improved sleep quality. 

The two main components of medical cannabis are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is known for producing psychoactive effects when ingested, while CBD does not have any intoxicating properties. Both CBD and THC bind to certain receptors found in the ECS, but do so differently and can thus produce different types of response from the body. For instance, CBD may be used for its anti-inflammatory properties while THC may be used for its analgesic effect. 

When taken together as part of the whole plant extract known as ‘whole plant medicine’, these components can have a synergistic effect whereby their combined action is greater than what either component could achieve alone. This means that whole plant medicine may be more effective at providing relief from a range of conditions than just using either CBD or THC separately.

The Human ECS

The human endocannabinoid system is an incredibly complex biological network that plays a crucial role in numerous bodily functions. 

Human CBD Receptor chart

It is composed of a series of receptors located all throughout the brain and body, as well as endocannabinoids — molecules that are naturally produced by the body to interact with these receptors. Through this interaction, the ECS works to regulate homeostasis as well as various physiological systems such as sleep, pain-sensation, mood, immune response, and metabolism. 

The medical potential of cannabis has long been recognized due to its ability to interact with the ECS by binding to its receptors. This interaction allows for cannabinoids from cannabis plants such as THC and CBD to influence certain physiological processes — potentially providing relief from pain, anxiety, inflammation, and more. As such, medical cannabis has become increasingly popular among those seeking alternative treatments for their ailments. 

Due to its potential therapeutic effects and wide range of applications in medicine, there is ongoing study on the human endocannabinoid system and various forms of medical cannabis. 

Anandamide endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter molecule

This research will provide valuable insight into how cannabinoid compounds can interact with the body’s natural endocannabinoid system; helping us better understand different aspects of our physiology in relation to homeostasis and other associated processes. 

In addition to furthering research efforts in the field of cannabinoid science, understanding the components of the ECS helps emphasize just how important it is for maintaining our health — while also highlighting potential therapeutic benefits for those suffering from various conditions and illnesses who may benefit from medical cannabis treatments or lifestyle changes that support healthy ECS functioning.


  1. Zou S, Kumar U. Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System. Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Mar 13;19(3):833. doi: 10.3390/ijms19030833. PMID: 29533978; PMCID: PMC5877694.
  2. Lu HC, Mackie K. An Introduction to the Endogenous Cannabinoid System. Biol Psychiatry. 2016 Apr 1;79(7):516-25. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.07.028. Epub 2015 Oct 30. PMID: 26698193; PMCID: PMC4789136.

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