The Endocannabinoid System, A Physician's Perspective

Most physicians are constantly learning not only for their benefit but, more importantly, for the benefit of their patients.  It is not surprising therefore that there is considerable interest in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) as this system has only been recently recognized and appreciated.  I think it is fair to say that over the last decade there has been more interest in the ECS than any other system in our body and understanding this system has generated an awareness of therapeutic potentials in many health-related areas.

The endocannabinoid system is a network of receptors spread throughout the body.  This network helps control many vital life functions including pain sensation, mood, memory, the immune system, anxiety, and inflammation to name a few.  Experts believe that the prime function of this system (ECS) is to regulate homeostasis or biological balance in almost all cells and organs in our body.

The two main endocannabinoid receptors (endo =internal to our body) are designated CB1 and CB2.  The CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain and central nervous system and CB2 receptors are mainly found in the peripheral nerves and immune cells.  Understanding how these receptors are activated or supressed are key to knowing how the ECS works to maintain the above-mentioned homeostasis.

In future articles, I will delve in more detail how this system affects certain conditions such as pain, mood disorders, inflammatory conditions, skin disorders and Gastro-Intestinal/Liver metabolism.  I will also discuss recent theories on a condition known as Endocannabinoid Deficiency and its implications.  Modulation of this system (stimulation or suppression) has significant therapeutic potential for many medical conditions.

The bottom line is this is a complex system in which by modulation we can see significant benefits.  As with any medical intervention, undesirable effects may also occur and through appropriate research we can enhance the desirable medical benefits and minimize or eliminate any negative side effects.

Location of CB1 and CB2 receptors in the human body

Check our website for upcoming articles where I examine the ECS further.


Dr. John Maynard, B.Sc., M.D.

Medical Director