Cannabis Doesn’t (Always) Boost The Endocannabinoid System
3 min

Cannabis Doesn’t (Always) Boost The Endocannabinoid System

3 min
Editorials News

Contrary to popular belief, smoking cannabis doesn't actually boost the endocannabinoid system, but instead causes it to downregulate. Read on to find out the implications of this response, and the truth behind "feeding" the ECS.

Welcome to Zamnesia's Editorials, where our writer, Steven, shares his opinion on all things related to the cannabis, CBD, and smartshop industries. Remember, all the views expressed in these articles are those of the author and don't necessarily reflect the opinions of Zamnesia as a company. To share your opinions with our author and our team, make sure to leave a comment.

Cannabis enthusiasts often think that using cannabis “feeds” or “boosts” the endocannabinoid system (ECS). And while phytocannabinoids like THC can mimic endocannabinoids, their effects aren’t always predictable. In fact, cannabinoids like THC can disrupt and downregulate the endocannabinoid system, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.


Your Endocannabinoid System Is Likely Working Fine On Its Own

The endocannabinoid system is comprised of 3 main components:

  • endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG
  • cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2
  • enzymes used to synthesise, transport, and metabolise endocannabinoids

Our body produces endocannabinoids naturally in response to both our internal and external environments.

When we sense fear or danger, for example, the body responds by producing adrenaline and cortisol, two stress hormones that trigger our “fight or flight” response. However, our bodies also produce endocannabinoids in these situations to help reduce stress and cortisol levels, and calm our bodies back down.

Besides stress response, the endocannabinoid system is also involved in the formation of memories, regulating hunger and energy levels, mediating inflammation, and much more.

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Unfortunately, there’s a common misconception among cannabis enthusiasts that using cannabinoids like THC can help “boost” the endocannabinoid system. Unfortunately, that’s very misleading. The endocannabinoid system, like most physiological systems, is very tightly regulated and designed to function properly without the need of an external influence like phytocannabinoids.


How Phytocannabinoids Really Affect The Endocannabinoid System

THC is the main intoxicating compound in weed, and, out of the 400+ chemical constituents in the plant, it’s by far the one we know most about. In today’s cannabis strains, it is also the most prevalent compound, sometimes reaching levels of over 30% in the flowers.

THC is structurally very similar to the endocannabinoid anandamide, and binds perfectly to CB1 receptors. When it does, it causes the endocannabinoid system to downregulate. This means it naturally produces fewer endocannabinoids and fewer cannabinoid receptors.

This happens because the endocannabinoid system is very tightly controlled and designed not to become overactive. An overactive endocannabinoid system can be really harmful and has been linked to serious illnesses including metabolic syndrome, chronic inflammation, and more.

Downregulation of the endocannabinoid system can, over time, have negative effects. As the body produces fewer endocannabinoids and receptors, it may develop a dependence on THC and other phytocannabinoids. This dependence may then interfere with the body’s ability to self-regulate and respond to things like anxiety and stress, the proper formation of memories, and any other process that the ECS is naturally involved in.

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What About Cannabinoids Other Than THC?

Unfortunately, there’s still a lot we don’t know about cannabis. Even CBD, despite all the hype surrounding it, is still somewhat poorly understood. Researchers have many questions about its main mechanisms of action and how these influence its effects and therapeutic potential.

What we do know, however, is that CBD has a low binding affinity for either cannabinoid receptor. Instead, it seems to act on serotonin, gamma, and vanilloid receptors, among others. It also blocks some receptors, like GPR55, which have been shown to be involved in regulating bone mass. Finally, CBD may actually work as a reuptake inhibitor for anandamide, causing a temporary increase in endocannabinoids in the body.

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Do You Need To Feed Your Endocannabinoid System With Cannabis?

In most cases, no. Your endocannabinoid system doesn’t need phytocannabinoids in order to work properly. In fact, as we saw earlier, using cannabinoids like THC can actually disrupt your endocannabinoid system’s ability to function properly on its own. This can be particularly problematic during formative years such as adolescence, and is why people shouldn’t consume cannabis during these years.

Remember, like most other physiological systems, your endocannabinoid system is designed to function properly on its own. All healthy adults should have a functioning, stringently regulated endocannabinoid system that doesn’t need to be “fed” or “boosted” by THC or any other phytocannabinoid.


A Note On Cannabinoid Therapy

As I mentioned earlier, the endocannabinoid system is really important for balancing our body’s response to changes in both our internal and external environments. When this system is underactive, disease strikes. And this is where using phytocannabinoids can actually prove beneficial.

Scientists believe that clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD) may be at the heart of a variety of conditions. In these conditions, using cannabis may help support a patient’s “faulty” endocannabinoid system. Although research in this area is quite preliminary, it demonstrates that there are some exceptions to the rule stated above. When it comes to the therapeutic potential of cannabis, there’s a lot we don’t know and a little we do know. And while cannabinoids like THC and CBD both have genuine medicinal properties, they aren’t necessary to keep your ECS functioning in tip-top shape.

Steven Voser

Written by: Steven Voser
Steven Voser is an Emmy Award Nominated freelance journalist with a lot of experience under his belt. Thanks to a passion for all things cannabis, he now dedicates a lot of his times exploring the world of weed.

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