How do cannabinoids interact with the ECS?

Learn about the vast system that brings balance to everyday life.
How do cannabinoids interact with the ECS?
minute read
Cannabinoids interact primarily within a vital system in the body  the endogenous cannabinoid system, also known as the endocannabinoid system. This system is made of receptors located all over the body, regulating functions and maintaining proper homeostasis. 

Homeostasis is achieved with the help of endocannabinoids, as well as cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, called phytocannabinoids. Both are needed to support endocannabinoid signaling and the proper modulation of neurons.* 

What is the ECS?

The endocannabinoid system is one of the largest known receptor networks in the human body, with CB1 and CB2 receptors located throughout the brain, skin, organs, and immune cells. This crucial network was first discovered in the late 1980s, yet it remains relatively unknown in both the medical field and amongst the general public. 

Endocannabinoids are another factor involving endocannabinoid system function. Endocannabinoids are compounds are naturally produced in our bodies, responding and breaking down as needed. The issue is when our bodies aren't making enough endocannabinoids to maintain proper homeostasis. 

Phytocannabinoids, like CBD, can help fill in the gaps and mediate vital processes in the endocannabinoid system. Choosing the right hemp products can help address specific imbalances more precisely while limiting side effects.

What benefits can cannabinoid products offer?

Cannabinoid products are diverse in form and function, thanks to its federal legalization in the 2018 Farm Bill. Users can access a wide range of products and experience hemp's therapeutic potential.

Many endocannabinoid system imbalances begin in the central nervous system (CNS), which supports everything from motor learning to appetite and perception of discomfort or tension. These mechanisms are tied closely to CB1 receptors, affecting both cognitive and physical functions. Therefore, balancing CB1 receptors and supporting the endocannabinoid system is the main benefit that cannabinoid products provide.* 

There are also CB2 receptors, which are closely related to the peripheral nervous, immune, and gastrointestinal systems. For those with imbalances in these areas, cannabinoid products can offer support by maintaining proper receptor signaling and ECS function.* 

How does THC produce psychoactive effects?

While CBD and other non-psychoactive compounds can help keep the ECS balanced by interacting with CB1 receptors, THC binds directly with the cannabinoid CB1 receptors to produce the sensations of a high.* 

In this process, delta-9 THC targets receptors primarily in the brain, impacting neurons that may alter perception and other functional processes. This is why we feel a sense of slowness, heightened sensations, or mild euphoria when experiencing a THC high.*

THC also activates our brain’s reward system by triggering dopamine production, which is why many users enjoy the “feel good” buzz of marijuana. However, too much THC can lead to side effects like paranoia, discomfort, or racing thoughts.*

Thankfully, the harsh effects of THC may be reduced by incorporating CBD, helping to reduce the intensity of the CB1 activation and producing a more mellow, balanced sensation.* 

Are all cannabinoids psychoactive?

Not all cannabinoids are psychoactive, and only delta-9 THC is capable of producing significant intoxicating effects. In fact, most cannabinoids in cannabis plant are used for therapeutic potential rather than the intoxicating, psychoactive sensations associated with marijuana.*

If you explore the long list of more than 100 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, you’ll find that only delta-9 THC and a few other THC analogs trigger a strong psychoactive response from the endocannabinoid system.* The vast majority of these cannabis compounds are used in wellness products to balance the ECS offer natural, non-intoxicating benefits for health and well-being.*

Why are some cannabinoids psychoactive and others aren’t?

The reason why THC and some of its analogs are psychoactive is due to how it interacts with CB1 receptors in the brain. THC binds directly with CB1, producing intoxicating effects as soon as the compounds cross the blood-brain barrier.* 

While THC and other cannabinoids work together synergistically, you don’t need THC in your routine to unlock the benefits of non-psychoactive cannabinoids.  However, even a small amount of THC found in full spectrum hemp extracts, for instance, can trigger the entourage effect, which may boost wellness results.* 

What happens when your ECS is out of balance?

Since the human body doesn’t come with a “check-engine light,” you may not know exactly when or why your ECS is out of balance. However, a few common signals clue you into possible imbalances, so pay attention to the following red flags and consider using cannabinoid supplements to address them.

Sleep troubles

When the ECS is out of balance, your sleep quality might be affected first. Poor sleep hygiene is a common culprit, but imbalanced cannabinoid levels can be an underlying issue that can be remedied with certain cannabinoid formulas.

The first issue to watch for is sleep latency, which is the time it takes for you to fall asleep at night. If you lie in bed for more than a half hour without drifting off to sleep, an imbalance in your ECS may prevent you from fully relaxing. An out-of-balance ECS may also prevent you from achieving the deep, restorative REM sleep you need.*

Introducing cannabinoids like CBD and CBN can support balance in the ECS during your evening routine and while you sleep, calming the central nervous system and supporting a sense of whole-body relaxation. Combined with a soothing bedroom environment and other healthy evening habits — you’ve got the perfect recipe for a night of restorative sleep.*

Weakened immune system

Immunity is a complex subject that involves more than just washing your hands and drinking orange juice. The endocannabinoid system, particularly CB2 receptors, play a role in supporting immune function down to the cellular level. Balanced CB2 receptors may help your body fend off micro-attackers like bacteria, viruses, and other sources of infection. 

To support your body’s defensive fortress and give you the edge during the cold season, you want to focus on taking your cannabinoid supplement everyday as a part of your wellness routine. Check out Sunmed’s Immune+ Tincture for a premium immune boost and ECS support.*

Trouble dealing with stress

We all deal with stress, but sometimes, willpower isn’t enough to stay above the fray. You can stay even-keeled when stressful situations arise by giving your ECS the support it needs with phytocannabinoids like CBD.

In fundamental terms, stress can be anything that pushes our body or mind out of balance and into fight or flight, so supporting the ECS is a logical and preventative way to stay a step ahead of daily stress. The best hemp extracts keep you balanced despite adversity, and may help you navigate stressful events with more resilience.* 

Digestive discomfort

Researchers have only recently begun to discover the crucial role of the digestive system in so many areas of human health and well-being. It’s more than just digesting food and absorbing nutrients — digestive health also supports the production of feel-good compounds like serotonin. 

Therefore, addressing digestive discomfort with cannabinoids is a great way to supplement your overall wellness routine. You may find that CBD improves the relationship of the gut-brain axis while supporting healthy hunger signaling and metabolic health.* 

The bottom line: 

Cannabinoids are a key supplementary component for proper endocannabinoid system function, ultimately making for a more balanced life. 

If you’re on the look out for a premium and trusted CBD brand, check out Sunmed’s hemp wellness line — full of USDA-organic tinctures, vegan-friendly gummies, and even calming hemp treats for your pet (their ECS needs support, too)!


History of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system | PMC

Endocannabinoid System - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System Ethan Russo, MD Medical Director, PHYTECS The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an esse | Phytecs

The Endocannabinoid System of Animals | PMC