Photo by Jennifer Enujiugha on Unsplash

By Lisa Profera MD

It’s all about balance. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is perhaps the most important system in the body. Its main functions are commonly summarized as “Eat, sleep, relax, forget, and protect.” This system is very ancient and can be found in all animals with a backbone (chordates). 

The three basic components of the ECS are the cannabinoid receptors on cell membranes, the chemical “keys” that bind to the receptors (or “locks”), and the enzymes that break down the chemical keys once they have completed their task. This is a very dynamic, fluid system where trillions of lock and key interactions occur daily. Our bodies produce two main endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2-AG. There are two receptors (CB1 and CB2) and several enzymes for synthesis and degradation. 

In my article on CBD for the October 2019 issue of The Brick, I explained what the ECS is. As I said then, I like to think of the ECS as a “master regulator” of all of our body systems:

We naturally make our own endocannabinoids, which are responsible for regulating many functions in the brain and body (body temperature, sleep, energy, pain, pleasure, stress response, immune function, digestion, and much more). When we’re stressed from an injury or infection, our endocannabinoid system helps us get “back to normal” — back to a state of homeostasis or balance. Deficiency or dysregulation of the ECS literally throws us off balance. When systems are unbalanced, we develop disease over time. Dysregulation of the ECS has been shown to play a role in almost all disease pathology. According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health, Pal Pacher and George Kunos, it makes logical sense that ‘modulating endocannabinoid system activity may have therapeutic potential in almost all diseases affecting humans’ (2014).” (BRICK, October 2019)

Whenever our systems are challenged by something (viruses, bacteria, other microbes, injury, toxins, or other stressors), our ECS fights to get everything back to normal as quickly as possible. If any of the other systems (digestive, musculoskeletal, immune, nervous, etc.) are not functioning ideally, the ECS takes action to get them back on track. There are more cannabinoid receptors in our brain than any other type of receptor. The brain is the executor of our bodies, and the ECS is vital to our overall health.

There are three types of cannabinoids: endocannabinoids (made by our body), phytocannabinoids (made by plants), and synthetic cannabinoids. Endogenous cannabinoids are produced and degraded as needed by our body. The endocannabinoid “tone” is kept at a baseline level when all systems are running normally. It’s highly adaptable, upregulating or downregulating depending upon the challenges that are posed. Dr. Ethan Russo proposed a condition of low endocannabinoid tone in certain individuals, which may be genetic or acquired. In his original paper in 2004, Dr. Russo proposed that people who suffer from migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome may have “clinical endocannabinoid deficiency.” Patients suffering from these conditions are often difficult to treat and experience an increased sensitivity to pain or hyperalgesia. The idea of increased or decreased endocannabinoid tone has been postulated in many other disease states. Replacing deficient endocannabinoids with phytocannabinoids such as those as found in medical marijuana may help the ECS re-achieve balance.

In the 2014 article by McPartland, et al. titled “The Care and Feeding of the Endocannabinoid System: A Systematic Review of Potential Clinical Interventions that Upregulate the Endocannabinoid System,” the authors outlined the many ways that phytocannabinoids (CBD, THC, and others) modulate the ECS. CBD has the ability to help the ECS upregulate or downregulate itself as needed in order to achieve homeostasis. Diet and lifestyle choices can affect ECS tone. There is evidence that omega-3 fatty acids, pre- and probiotics, certain herbal remedies, terpenes, flavonoids, and many other compounds can affect our ECS. Unsurprisingly, xercise, stress reduction, healthy body weight, and other lifestyle-related factors are also important.

In the words of Dr. Russo, “Only time and the scientific method will ascertain whether a new paradigm is applicable to human physiology and treatment of its derangements. Our insight into these possibilities is dependent on the contribution of one unique healing plant; for clinical cannabis has become a therapeutic compass to what modern medicine fails to cure.” 

Help your ECS keep the perfect balance in your life. I’m happy to guide you in your journey to a better, more harmonious relationship with your health.


Lisa Profera MD

Owner and Founder of PROJUVU MD

Aesthetics and Lifestyle Medicine in Ann Arbor, MI

Expert Injector

Medical Director, Facial Innovations Medi-spa, Ann Arbor

Medical Director, Northville Beauty Spa

Certified Medical Marijuana Doctor

Certified doTERRA Essential Oils Expert

BEMER Independent Distributor

CrossFit® Level 1 Trainer


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Please note that the information in this article has been designed to help educate the reader regarding the subject matter covered. This information is provided with the understanding that the author and any other entity referenced here are not liable for the misconception or misuse of the information provided. It is not provided to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any disease, illness, or injured condition of the body. The provider of this information shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity concerning any loss, damage, or injury caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by this information. The information presented is in no way intended as a substitute for medical counseling or care. Anyone suffering from any disease, illness, or injury should consult a qualified healthcare professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.