The endocannabinoid system: definition and challenges

Still little known, the endocannabinoid system plays a central role in the proper functioning of our body and the various systems that compose it. Let's find out how it works in our body and how cannabinoids like CBD activate it to help maintain our balance.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

Le endocannabinoid system (SEC) is a collection of receptors found throughout the human body. This set reacts to endogenous molecules, created inside our body without any external input, which activate the same receptors as cannabis by attaching to them. cannabinoid receptors.

In the human body, two receptors of the endocannabinoid system have been isolated. The CB1 receptor, which acts mainly in the nervous system, and the CB2 receptor, which has an action on the immune system cells.

CB receptor distribution

The cannabinoids are therefore a group of chemicals that activate receptors present in the human body.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most well-known cannabinoid. In industrial hemp, it is present at less than 0,2% and is responsible for the psychotropic effects experienced during the consumption of marijuana.

Le CBD (cannabidiol), a cannabinoid less known to the general public, is gaining in reputation today. It is one of the key active ingredients in medical cannabis. It fights against pain, epilepsy or intense stress and has many virtues for the skin.

What are the functions of the endocannabinoid system?

Helps maintain the body's balance

Le endocannabinoid system plays many functions within the body. Recent studies have shown that he participated inhomeostasis, that is to say at the regulation of our different systems and our different organs depending on external conditions by balancing for example body temperature, appetite, sleep or blood pressure.

Helps reduce inflammation

Cannabinoids are also known to work on inflammation, in particular by participating in the pain reduction in case of tension or injuries. The anti-inflammatory action is global, i.e. it will act throughout the body but also on the skin by fighting against any type of inflammation (digestive, articular, etc.).

Acts on the metabolism

The functions of the endocannabinoid system also allow to intervene at the level of our metabolism, in modulating the feeling of hunger but also the formation of fat cells. Its action on the digestive sphere helps to promote optimal digestion, and to limit the appearance of possible intestinal disorders.

Participates in the functioning of the central nervous system

In the nervous system, the endocannabinoid system will help regulate stress mechanisms and to limit the normal reactions of the body which are associated with it, such as sleep disorders, difficulty concentrating and memorizing, or even mood balance and emotional management.

The endocannabinoid system is involved in many physiological and psychological processes : cardiovascular function, inflammation, immune system, stress or even digestion, its applications are very wide and aim to help the body to regulate itself optimally to avoid the appearance of disorders or pathologies.

The endocannabinoid system of the skin

Recent studies have suggested the existence of a cutaneous endocannabinoid system whose role is to maintain the stability of its physiological functions, through the proliferation, differentiation and death of skin cells. The disruption of these functions, due to pollution and the stress of daily life, could be the cause of skin pathologies such as acne, psoriasis, dermatitis....

This system is regulated, among other things, by cannabinoids. They are involved, through their action on cannabinoid receptors, in the processes of pain perception, temperature, skin homeostasis, regulation of the sebaceous glands… Understanding this cutaneous endocannabinoid system could highlight possible levers of action against these skin disorders. Molecules such as THC or CBD (cannabidiol), derived from cannabis, can therefore play an important role in the development of new therapeutic strategies.   

Discover our article: The benefits of CBD for the skin

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Target cells

Target endocannabinoid receptor

Effects envisioned


keratinocytes, immune cells


Suppression of keratinocyte proliferation and inflammation


sebaceous glands


Inhibition of sebum production

Dry skin

sebaceous glands


Stimulation of sebum production


Sensory neurons, sebaceous glands, keratinocytes


Inhibition of nerve signal transmission


sebaceous glands, keratinocytes, immune cells


Suppression of the inflammatory phenomenon


Sensory neurons, keratinocytes


Inhibition of nerve signal transmission

Also note that the terpenes and flavonoids, the natural essential oils present in the cannabis plant, work together, resulting in more pronounced and wider effects on the endocannabinoid system.

Benefits of CBD on stress and sleep

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References :

1: Inserm (dir.). Cannabis: What effects on behavior and health ?. Report. Paris: Inserm editions, 2001, XII- 429 p. - (Collective expertise).

2: Caterina, Michael J. “TRP Channel Cannabinoid Receptors in Skin Sensation, Homeostasis, and Inflammation.” ACS Chemical Neuroscience 5.11 (2014): 1107–1116. PMC. Web. 21 Sep 2018.

3: Bíró, Tamás et al. “The Endocannabinoid System of the Skin in Health and Disease: Novel Perspectives and Therapeutic Opportunities.” Trends in pharmacological sciences 30.8 (2009): 411–420. PMC. Web. 21 Sep 2018.

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