What Is an Endocannabinoid System?

What Is an Endocannabinoid System?

In the 1960s, famed Israeli cannabis research scientist Raphael Mechoulam from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, first distinguished the two main compounds, or elements, that come from the cannabis plant: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD (cannabidiol).

The main psychoactive component of cannabis is THC that affects the brain by interacting with, and infiltrating, the body’s neuronal signaling system. CBD, however, is not psychoactive and interacts with multiple receptor systems in our bodies and therefore has a broader impact on our systems. CBD is also World Anti Doping Association, or WADA compliant, meaning that it is not a banned substance for athletes unlike other cannabinoid and performance enhancing drugs.

This is why Fire+Ice CBD products for athletes are developed with the highest quality isolate CBD and our proprietary blend of over 50 premium ingredients.

The Endocannabinoid System

In 1992, Dr. Lumir Hanus and Dr. William Devane first discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS) by isolating the first known endocannabinoid in the human brain, naming it anandamide. Anandamide is sometimes referred to as the bliss molecule, for its euphoric properties. It’s what creates the sensation of “runners high” for runners.  Like anything else, when anandamide is broken down the feeling of ‘bliss’ dissipates.

Later, the team discovered a second-major endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These two endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2AG help manage a body’s homeostasis (or systemic balance) and can affect both the central or peripheral nervous system.

The endocannabinoid system is complicated, and cannabis researchers are actively investigating this powerful human system to better understand exactly how it works and all its potential functions.

Athletes are benefiting from this research that so far has identified the ECS playing a role in some part affecting the following systems, functions, and benefits:

  • Cardiovascular system functions
  • Inflammation and other immune system responses
  • Reproductive system functions
  • Liver functions
  • Metabolic functions
  • Motor control
  • Bone remodeling and growth
  • Appetite and digestion management
  • Chronic pain and muscle formation
  • Mood, sleep, and stress management

There are three components to the endocannabinoid system:

  1. Endocannabinoids
  2. Receptors
  3. Enzymes

Endocannabinoid System Components


Endocannabinoids, themselves, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules that, while similar to cannabinoids, are uniquely produced by your body.

David Raichlin, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona who led a study on the endocannabinoid system described it this way, “Running and other forms of aerobic activity increase production of anandamide —the neurotransmitter that THC imitates— in the brains of certain mammals, including people. The brain’s reward system provided a neurobiological incentive for our remote ancestors to run for long distances. The incentive promoted survival and thus helped shape the evolution of the human body.” Your body produces them as needed, making it difficult to know what typical levels are for each.


Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their function. There are two main enzymes responsible for this:

  • Fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA
  • Monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG

Endocannabinoid receptors

Endocannabinoids receptors are found throughout your body. Endocannabinoids bind to them in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action.

There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1 receptors
  • CB2 receptors

Of these two endocannabinoid receptors, CB1 are mostly found in the central nervous system, and CB2 which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells. When part of the body triggers an imbalance in the nervous system, endocannabinoids travel to the endocannabinoid receptors that assist in regulating and maintain homeostasis. This is what’s happening when your body is recuperating after exhaustive athletic activity.

CB1 receptors are targeted by delta-9-THC, the main compound in cannabis known for its intoxicating effects. CB2 is mainly expressed in the immune system (to a lesser extent in the central nervous system) and does not create a psychotropic reaction, a factor critical for athletes in determining what products to use.

Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The effects that result depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to. For example, endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Others might bind to a CB2 receptor in your immune cells to signal that your body’s experiencing inflammation, a common sign of auto-immune disorders.

Our infographic below illustrates how CBD works in the body.

What Is an Endocannabinoid System?

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