What Are Phytocannabinoids and How Do They Interact With The ECS?

What are phytocannabinoids

Posted on May 22nd, 2022

Phytocannabinoid is a term that’s pretty common in the cannabis plant world. But what are phytocannabinoids? Well if you already use cannabis products, you might know already. Alternatively, you’ve likely heard about CBD and THC. And guess what? These are both examples of “active” phytocannabinoids. And we find them in cannabis plants.

What Is The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)? What are phytocannabinoids

The ECS (endocannabinoid system), is a cell-signaling complex system. Researchers first identified it in the 1990s, while studyingย  THC. Remember, cannabinoids are the compounds present in cannabis. Researchers and scientists still don’t fully understand the ECS. However, to date, we’ve learned it plays a role in regulating various processes and functions, including:

– Mood
– Sleep
– Fertility and reproduction
– Appetite
– Memory

The endocannabinoid system is active and exists in the human body even if you don’t use cannabis.

What Are Phytocannabinoids And How Does The ECS Work?

Your ECS involves three key components: enzymes, receptors, and endocannabinoids.


The enzymes break down endocannabinoids after they finish carrying out their functions. There are two primary enzymes.

– FAAH (Fatty-Acid Amide Hydrolase), that breaks down AEA, and

– MAGL (Monoacylglycerol-Acid Lipase), which generally breaks down 2-AG.


You can find endocannabinoid receptors throughout the human body. The endocannabinoids bind to these receptors, activating certain pathways in the ECS. The two key endocannabinoid receptors include:

– The CB1 receptors (present in the central-nervous system), and
– CB2 receptors (present in the peripheral nervous system, especially the immune cells)

Endocannabinoids can bind to either of these receptors. The effects will depend on receptor location, along with the specific endocannabinoid.

For example, endocannabinoids may target CB1 receptors in the spinal nerve, alleviating pain. Other endocannabinoids may bind to CB2 receptors in immune cells. And that would signal your body that it’s experiencing inflammation. (This is a common sign of an autoimmune disorder).


Also known as endogenous cannabinoids, endocannabinoids are molecules your body produces.

So far, experts have identified two primary endocannabinoids:

– AEA (anandamide)
– 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglyerol)

Together, they help maintain smooth internal functions in your body. They’re produced when needed, making it hard to establish typical or average levels.

What Are Phytocannabinoids – Homeostasis And Endocannabinoids

The ECS is a vital system in the body for the regulation of homeostatic activity. While it might be better known for the way it can be stimulated by phytocannabinoids (the active chemicals in cannabis plants), it also plays an essential role in the human body without assistance from cannabis. Researchers have discovered that the ECS naturally modulates various functions such as energy, learning, hunger, muscle control, memory, pain, inflammation, temperature, sleep, mood, and more.

These are functions that will occur once the cannabinoids (chemicals that the body naturally produces) bind with the endocannabinoid receptors. This sets off a reaction that will trigger the above-mentioned effects. Activation of the system in various ways can make a person feel energized or sleepy, no appetite or hungry, relaxed or anxious, and many more. From here enzymes break down endocannabinoids, clearing them from the body.

While there may be various ways that homeostasis is maintained or modulated by the ECS, researchers have been studying a couple of areas a lot more closely.

– Energy Homeostasis

Energy homeostasis relates to how the body regulates its energy levels. This mainly occurs through energy expenditures, metabolism, and food intake. Because they help regulate metabolism, endocannabinoids are typically anabolic. And that means they promote storage, raise caloric intake, and lower energy expenditures.

Another way that phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids affect energy-metabolism is by influencing appetite. Stimulating CB1 receptors with an endocannabinoid such as anandamide or with a phytocannabinoid such as THC increases appetite. Conversely, blocking CB1 should result in lost appetite.

Over and above affecting appetite, the ECS also appears to alter metabolism. For example, a study involving healthy volunteers discovered that after smoking cannabis for three days, participants all increased their caloric intake, likely because their appetites increased. However, after these 3 days, these increases subsided.

Similarly, in research where CB1 was blocked in mice, they were able to adjust rapidly to these appetite-suppressing effects of this treatment but still continued to experience weight-reducing effects. Rodents that are naturally deficient in CB1 seemed to be a bit leaner when compared to the other normal counterparts.

Interestingly, there are also studies that suggest that stimulating CB1 can result in weight loss. This is evident in obesity rates that appear to be lower in people that use cannabis when compared to those that don’t. One study discovered that mice that were given THC picked up less weight (on a high-fat diet) than the “control” groups. In fact, THC appeared to change the “gut biome” of these mice, changing it from a profile that was consistent in obesity to a profile that is present in healthy rodents.

Diving into Metabolism

The ECS also seems to regulate vital metabolic functions. Specifically, it impacts ones that relate to insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Understanding how this works could result in a significant breakthrough for individuals with metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes, but additional research is required to fully understand these complex situations.

Yet one thing seems to be clear, the ECS plays a massive role in energy homeostasis.

What Are Phytocannabinoids? Phytocannabinoids โ€“ What Are They? - examining hemp plants

Cannabis trichomes produce phytocannabinoids. When you consume a phytocannabinoid-rich product, these compounds interact with your body’s internal receptors, possibly triggering therapeutic and psychotropic benefits. The plant-derived and exogenous cannabinoids typically interact with the ECS (endocannabinoid system) to promote wellbeing.

Endocannabinoid System Interactions

As previously mentioned, the ECS was a recent discovery. And we still know very little about phytocannabinoids. Keep in mind, THC is still a federally banned substance. And that prohibition in the U.S. dates back to 1937.

Since that time, America has used international influence to “encourage” the rest of the world to ban THC. And that’s slowed down scientific advancements relating to cannabis. By 1973, researchers discovered an opiate receptor in the human brain. However, scientists didn’t learn that the brain has cannabinoid receptor sites until 1988. (That’s when Allyn Howlett and William Devane made this discovery.)

These sites were later called cannabinoid receptors. To date, we can confirm that CB1 and CB2 exist. However, research suggests there may be a third one. For now, they’re calling it GPR55.

Understanding ECS Receptors

The CB receptors are abundant neurotransmitter receptor types present in the brains of mammals. Researchers first identified the CB1 receptor, followed by CB2 in the 1990s.

When you consume phytocannabinoid-rich products, they interact with these receptors. Then, the interactions result in varying regulatory responses in your body. What that response looks like depends on the type of phytocannabinoid. But it also relates to the amount you ingest or apply, since that helps define the intensity of your experience.



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