The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a key role in keeping various bodily systems in biochemical balance, i.e., in maintaining homeostasis. The ECS evolved epochs ago, and variations of the deep-rooted, critical system are found today across all vertebrate species. (This explains why veterinarians are finding success in using medical cannabis to treat dogs and cats as well as people, by the way.)

The three key components of the ECS are:

a) The CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors (and others) which are found on the surface of many different types of cells in the body.

b) Endocannabinoids,which are small molecules produced by the body that activate cannabinoid receptors. The plant-made “phytocannabinoids” found in cannabis can do the same, which is a major mechanism of how and why medical cannabis works.

c) Metabolic enzymes which break down endocannabinoids after they are used

Cannabinoid receptors sit on the surface of cells and “listen” to conditions outside the cell. They transmit information about changing conditions to the inside of the cell, kick-starting the appropriate cellular response.

The two major types cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2 aren’t the only cannabinoid receptors, but they were the first ones discovered and remain the best-studied to date.

Both are found throughout the body, but CB1 receptors are more abundant in the central nervous system, including on neurons in the brain. In contrast, CB2 receptors are more abundant outside of the nervous system, including cells of the immune system.

See e.g., for more.

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