The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and the role of CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body

Every function in our body requires balance, or homeostasis, to perform optimally, and essentially every biological function in the body is modulated in some way by the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is intricately involved in sleep, appetite, memory, reproduction, sexual function, pain regulation, inflammation, immune response, and more – it’s a long list! 

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) helps regulate these systems using its three main components: “messenger” molecules called endocannabinoids; the receptors that these molecules bind to, including the cannabinoid 1 and cannabinoid 2 receptors (aka CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors); and the enzymes that manufacture and break these molecules down.

Endocannabinoid receptors are widely distributed throughout the body, which explains why taking a CBD supplement can have so many beneficial effects. While THC acts like a direct supplement or replacement for the endocannabinoid Anandamide, CBD is more of a “booster” supplement, impacting the way the body naturally interfaces with its own endocannabinoids. 

The difference between CB1 and CB2 receptors

The ECS has two main receptor types that we currently know about – CB1 and CB2: 

  • Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CB1) is a neuromodulating receptor, and it’s the most plentiful receptor type in the brain and central nervous system. CB1 receptors are also found in the pituitary gland, immune cells, pancreas, liver, GI tract, skeletal muscles, heart, skin, reproductive system, and fat tissue. The CB1 receptor’s primary function is to regulate the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate. CB1 is the target of two endocannabinoids, Anandamide and 2-AG. 
  • Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2) is an immunomodulating receptor. CB2 receptors are found primarily in immune tissues and the brain after brain injury but they are also found in blood-forming cells, the pancreas, liver, and throughout the peripheral nervous system. CB2 receptors also become more plentiful in the brain itself when the brain is injured or inflamed. The CB2 receptor’s primary function is to modulate inflammation and the immune response. CB2 is also the target of Anandamide and 2-AG.
cb1 and cb2 receptors

In short, while both CB1 and CB2 play key roles in your body’s endocannabinoid system, helping to regulate a broad range of bodily functions and effects, CB1’s regulatory work is done primarily in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 works primarily in your immune system.

How CBD interacts with the CB1 & CB2 receptors 

Contrary to popular belief, CBD does not bind directly to either CB1 or CB2 receptors. Instead, CBD works more indirectly to affect the activity of our cannabinoid receptors.

First, CBD attaches to a non-primary binding site on the CB1 receptor, which changes the shape of the primary site. Anandamide and THC can still bind to the receptor’s primary site, but when they do, their effects are modified. This is why when you mix CBD and THC, you reduce THC’s inebriating effect.

Additionally, CBD blocks the enzyme that breaks down Anandamide, which is the “bliss” chemical. When CBD is present, Anandamide becomes more abundant at the receptor site and available for use – allowing a deficient ECS to do more balancing work than it could do without CBD present. 

Outside of CB1 and CB2 receptors, CBD also interacts with 65 other types of receptors and enzymes throughout the body. Thus, CBD works not only on the ECS, but also on the broader endocannabinoidome, an even more expansive signaling system that includes the ECS. 

The Role of CBD in ECS deficiency 

Endocannabinoid deficiency is a condition caused by not having enough cannabinoid receptors or not having enough naturally occurring endocannabinoids circulating in the body for the ECS receptors to use. Either way, the result is a deficiency that can be remedied either by naturally increasing endocannabinoid production or by taking a cannabinoid supplement. 

endocannabinoid system

There are a number of things you can do to help your body increase Anandamide naturally and support your ECS, including eating a diet rich in whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and even a little dark chocolate. Exercise can help as well, as it boosts Anandamide levels – in fact, Anandamide is what causes the “runner’s high” after a good workout. Finally, adding a cannabinoid supplement to replace Anandamide (like THC) or a supplement to help the body use more of the natural Anandamide it has, like SHEbd’s CBD-Rich Broad-Spectrum Hemp softgel or oil, can help your ECS rebalance the body.  

Final Thoughts

CB1 and CB2 receptors are important parts of our body’s endocannabinoid system, or ECS. They function mainly to help our central nervous system and immune system stay in balance. When stimulated by either our naturally-produced endocannabinoids or by phytocannabinoids, our cannabinoid receptors can help modulate mood, manage discomfort and inflammation, regulate sleep, and more. A healthy ECS supports many important systems that impact our daily wellbeing and a CBD supplement can help your ECS continue running smoothing for optimal health.  

Experts Consulted
The Knox Docs, Certified Cannabinoid Medicine Specialists