How Cannabinoid Receptors Work

Cannabinoid receptors

Posted on December 27th, 2021

You can find cannabinoid receptors in almost all parts of our bodies. They form a fundamental part of the recently-discovered endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is generally responsible for a wide range of functions such as memory, fertility, sensing pain, mood, and more. But what exactly are cannabinoid receptors? And why do we have them in the first place? Let’s find out!

Cannabis and Your Body

You’ve probably heard that marijuana and hemp affect your body. Now, whether that effect is medicinal or cerebral, it exists. And that’s because of how cannabis interacts with your body.

Cannabis consists of numerous compounds. Some are unique and available only in this plant. These compounds (also called cannabinoids) can interact with cells in your body. And they do so through your cannabinoid receptors, which we’ll explore in this article. But, before we do that dive, you need to understand the ECS.

Endocannabinoid System (ECS) Cannabinoid receptors

Did you know that scientists discovered THC before they discovered the endocannabinoid system? Because of it’s late entry to the science game, you’ll learn about the nervous system, circulating system, and other internal functions as a kid at school. But you usually won’t hear about the ECS.

Again, we only learned it existed in the 1980s. So, the ECS remains an enigma to most people. In fact, few even know its name. But here’s a basic idea of how it works.

The ECS is a neuro transmitting network, and the biggest in our body. Its main function is to bring your body to homeostasis or balance. Think about your body temperature as an example. It can’t be too cold or too hot. You need balance, and that’s where the ECS comes in. Because, even when you face external harsh conditions, the ECS preserves stability in your internal environment.

Endocannabinoids vs Cannabinoids

And that’s not all. Your body naturally releases endocannabinoids like anandamide and 2-AG. Anandamide helps your body maintain a naturally blissful mode. In fact, it works similarly to THC, but with a relatively shorter shelf life.

But anandamide has a bigger role to play. It’s responsible for memory, motivation, movement, and fertility. In fact, this endocannabinoid may help you forget traumatic events or irrelevant facts that use up brain space. And, it seems to play a huge role in your happiness.

Remember how great you feel when you achieve something great? That’s anandamide at work: it acts as a reward pathway. And it produces the same feeling you experience when you exercise or engage in good sex.

Larger Implications

Given its many roles, anandamide may help you manage nerves, anxiety or depression. If you’re naturally blessed with large anandamide concentrations, you may not need to use cannabis extracts. But if you’re running low, cannabis may help you balance things out.

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are called phytocannabinoids. You can expect a reaction once they interact with the endocannabinoids in your body because they meet up with cannabinoid receptors. You’ll typically find these receptors in your immune system, brain or even your cell tissues. Because of their diverse locations, your ECS  facilitates communication between your brain and body, making sure they respond correctly to messages. In turn,  it regulates sleep, appetite, pain, memory, cognition, and growth.

About the Cannabinoid Receptors

As aforementioned, you can find cannabinoid receptor sites all over the body, from your brain and to the connective tissue. Cannabinoids then adhere to these sites to facilitate the appropriate physiological function of the nervous system, immune system, muscular system, etc. When it comes to the impacts of phytocannabinoids such as cannabidiol, two major cannabinoid receptors become of interest. These include cannabinoid-receptor type 1 (or CB1), as well as cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2).

CB1 Receptors Overview

You primarily find these on the nerve cells in your spinal cord and brain. However, they’re also present in your peripheral tissues and organs, including your endocrine gland, white blood cells, spleen, and parts of your gastrointestinal, reproductive, and urinary tracts.

When it comes to the brain, these CB1 receptors are abundant in the basal ganglia, cerebellum, dorsal major afferent spinal cord regions, and hippocampus. And that’s why cannabinoids affect functions such as pain regulation, motor control, and memory processing. In the brain stem, there’s a low concentration of cannabinoids, which might be associated with why cannabis use isn’t linked to sudden death because of depressed respiration.


CB2 Receptors Overview

They’re mainly located on white blood cells, in the spleen, and the tonsils. The immune cells also have CB1, but there are much fewer of them compared to CB2. One vital function of the cannabinoid receptors in the immune system is the regulation of cytokine production. CB1 receptor stimulation releases marijuana-like effects on circulation and the psyche. That said, no such effect is observed once the CB2 receptor is activated. As a result, picky CB2 receptor supporters have become much popular subjects of research primarily for their potential anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects.


How Do They Work Together?

CB1 and CB2 work together to regulate neuro-hormones in the human body. These receptors play an active role in numerous physiological processes, including mood, memory, appetite regulation, and pain sensation. After introducing cannabinoids to your receptors, either internally or externally, they activate and trigger physiological changes.

Research & Implications of Cannabinoid Receptors in Medicine Hemp leaves containing cannabinoids on white background

Ongoing research suggests phytocannabinoids impact your body’s cannabinoid receptors. Nonetheless, scientists know that THC adheres directly to CB1 receptors. And that may cause euphoric effects. (Or what you call getting high.)

On the other hand, CBD doesn’t adhere directly to CB1 or CB2 receptors, but it activates both cannabinoid receptors. Research also suggests that CBD inhibits THC impacts on the CB1 receptor, reducing potential side effects.

As part of the ECS, cannabinoid receptors balance many everyday functions in your body. That said, these receptors are stimulated when cannabinoids are administered into the system from external sources, like cannabidiol. Therefore, it makes sense that this system could be modulated to relieve certain symptoms. This method might be capable of treating various conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, osteoporosis, glaucoma, seizure disorders, hypertension, myocardial infarction, movement disorders, obesity, anxiety disorders, etc.


We still don’t know everything about the ECS. However, research suggests that it has an essential role in maintaining proper function and balance in the body. The ECS comprises receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes, which usually work together to assist maintain stability in certain processes like sleep, mood, and temperature.

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