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What Is Endocannabinoid Deficiency? (How CBD May Help)

It is quickly becoming common knowledge that all humans and almost all living creatures have an Endocannabinoid System (ECS). But what happens when this internal system has flaws or is not running at full potential? Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED) is characterized by low levels of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. It is potentially responsible for a variety of overlying medical disorders. 

What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

In school, we learned about the 11 major systems of the body. However, there is a major system in the body that we didn’t learn about. This is the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Its discovery was in the late 1980s when scientists were researching how marijuana works within the body.

There are a couple of reasons why we never learned about the ECS in our textbooks. The main reason is that studying the ECS revolves around cannabis.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government lists cannabis as a schedule 1 drug. This drastically limits any research or studies involving cannabis. Scientists are still in the process of figuring out much about the ECS. However, the fact is that the ECS exists. Hopefully, once it goes through the proper procedures perhaps then we will see it in standard textbooks. For now, let’s continue looking at what we do know about the ECS and CED.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a regulatory and control system. It is responsible for the proper functioning of several important processes in the mammalian body. These include: 

  • Memory
  • Metabolic function
  • Appetite
  • Digestion and the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract)
  • Immune system
  • Sleep cycles
  • Emotional states and moods
  • Inflammation and/or pain
  • Neurological function

holding hemp flower jar towards camera

Furthermore, the ECS is comprised of three integrated mechanisms

  • Endocannabinoids – These are compounds that your body naturally produces. Every creature with an ECS produces endocannabinoids naturally within its system.
  • Cannabinoid receptors – These are binding sites that interact with the endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids thereby activating the various processes in the ECS.
  • Enzymes These are metabolic compounds that are responsible for creating and breaking down cannabinoids. 

When these mechanisms integrate and work properly with each other, they are responsible for the overall function of the ECS.  

What are Cannabinoids?

Now that we know that Endocannabinoids are one of the primary mechanisms of the ECS, we can move forward. Endocannabinoids belong to a general category of compounds known as cannabinoids. 

The two most common and widely known cannabinoids are: 

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

This is the cannabinoid that most people are familiar with. THC is the primary active compound found in marijuana and has various medicinal qualities. It is psychoactive, meaning that it causes intoxication when you ingest it. It is not physically addictive, although users may develop a psychological dependency.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

This is the second most common cannabinoid. Various studies indicate that it has a wide range of medicinal qualities. In fact, a 2016 study from the peer-reviewed journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences indicates that it may have even more benefits than THC, although it does not directly activate cannabinoid receptors in the ECS. CBD is not psychoactive and has very few side effects. 

Furthermore, cannabinoids can be broken down into the following general categories: 


These are the cannabinoids your body naturally produces (“endo-” means “within” in Greek). The two most common endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Anandamide is especially important as it governs moods and emotional states via the ECS (many people refer to it as “the bliss molecule”). Taking CBD can help increase the number of endocannabinoids like Anandamide by slowing down the speed at which enzymes break the anandamide down. 


These are the active components found mostly in the cannabis plant. Cannabis has approximately 113 different cannabinoids. THC and CBD are both phytocannabinoids. There is also cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabichromene (CBC), all of which are being extensively studied for their potential medicinal benefits. Lower amounts of phytocannabinoids can be found in other plants such as black pepper, Cacao, flaxseed, and more. However, cannabis has the highest amount of phytocannabinoids to offer over other plants.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

These are manmade variants. People commonly refer to them as designer drugs. They are cannabinoids made synthetically in labs by humans. There are seven major types, though the most common are naphthoylindoles (widely known as JWH-018, JWH-073 or JWH-398). These are intended to replicate the feeling you get from real cannabinoids. Common examples are spice and synthetic marijuana. However, there have been many reports of harsh side effects from using these products. 

Most of the research into the benefits of cannabinoids has been undertaken in the past 25 years. Throughout this time, CBD has shown tremendous potential. Furthermore, because it is not psychoactive like THC, it is the preferred form of cannabis for many users. 

How Do Cannabinoids Work With the ECS?

As mentioned above, one of the three mechanisms of the ECS is the receptor sites that interact with both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids. You can classify these receptors as follows: 

  • Cannabinoid receptors 1 (CB1) – These are primarily located in the brain and central nervous system (CNS) as well as the liver, lungs, kidneys, and reproductive organs.
  • Cannabinoid receptors 2 (CB2) – These are found primarily on immune system cells and within the GI tract. 

These receptors were discovered fairly recently. Researchers identified CB1 receptors in 1990 and CB2 receptors in 1993. Furthermore, their respective discoveries triggered widespread research into the ECS and its interaction with cannabinoids. 

It is important to note that in biochemistry there are two primary ways in which a compound can interact with any receptor in the mammalian body:


This is a compound that directly binds with a receptor to initiate a physiological response.


This is a compound that inhibits the activation or physiological action of another. It does this by binding on to a receptor but does not activate the receptor. By binding onto the receptor it “blocks” any other compounds from accessing the receptor. Researchers often refer to these as “blockers“. 

To better imagine how these compounds and mechanisms work, try to imagine the receptor is a light switch. Turning on the light is an action the receptor performs. However, it needs someone to flip the switch in order to perform the task. Consequently, the person could act as an agonist and flip the switch to initiate the process of the light turning on. However, the person could act like an antagonist and block the switch so nobody else can access it to initiate the light sequence. They “block” the light switch from anyone else trying to access it.

Interestingly enough, CBD and THC have different mechanisms of action. THC directly binds with CB1 receptors in the brain, meaning that it is a CB1 agonist. Because these receptors are located in areas that are responsible for pleasure and reward, their activation via THC triggers the euphoric feeling that is commonly referred to as “being high”. 

CBD, on the other hand, indirectly activates CB1 and CB2 receptors; it is an antagonist for these receptors. This precise mechanism is still the subject of extensive debate and research.

According to an important study in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2001, CBD is also an agonist for TRPV1 receptors. These receptors are also crucial components in the ECS and their direct activation is likely responsible for CBD’s various benefits.

What is Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency?

Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CED or CECD) was first proposed in 2001 by the renowned cannabinoid researcher Dr. Ethan Russo. In 2004, it was more thoroughly investigated in a landmark study published in Neuro Endocrinology Letters. 

Dr. Russo concludes that CED is a general disorder resulting from a chronic deficiency in endocannabinoids and/or cannabinoid receptors. Through his studies Dr. Russo further elaborates that CED could be responsible for: 

  • Migraines
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Other inflammatory disorders

In 2016, Dr. Russo published another study in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research suggesting that phytocannabinoids like CBD could potentially help. 

holding pre-rolls in nature

Can CBD Help with Endocannabinoid Deficiency?

Current research suggests that CBD may be effective at boosting low levels of endocannabinoids. Furthermore, the initial studies were done by Dr. Russo only drew connections between a few disorders and CED, but ongoing research suggests that there are many more underlying disorders that may be triggered by low endocannabinoid levels. 

How to Correct an Endocannabinoid Deficiency?

Dr. Russo’s 2016 study suggests that phytocannabinoids (particularly CBD) may be used in order to boost the low levels of endocannabinoids.

In order to effectively do this, it is important that you determine your proper dosage. Precise amounts will vary from person to person and will largely depend on your metabolism and the route of administration. However, you can use these basic formulas to determine a starting dose: 

  • Regular dose – 0.25 milligrams for every 1 pound of your body weight (for mild to moderate symptoms).
  • Strong dose – 0.5 milligrams for every 1 pound of your body weight (for moderate to severe symptoms). 

For example, if you weigh 200 pounds and want to take a regular dose, then you simply multiply 200 by 0.25 (or take ¼ of 200) and get a dose of 50 milligrams. If you wish to take a strong dose, then you multiply 200 by 0.5 (or take ½ of 200) and get a dose of 100 milligrams.


You can always adjust these amounts, though it is best to take CBD under the supervision of a clinician. That way they can ensure that you do not have any negative interactions with other medications. If you want to learn more about your personal CBD dosage size you can find what you are looking for here along with our interactive CBD dosing chart. 

Is CBD Oil Safe for Humans?

CBD is exceptionally safe and has very few side effects. In the technical research literature, CBD is referred to as having an excellent safety profile. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) “To date, there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

What Products Are There?

  • Tinctures – This can come from either full-spectrum or CBD isolate. Manufacturers dilute the CBD with a carrier oil to make dosage-appropriate solutions. Full-spectrum CBD oil has other cannabinoids, including minute amounts of THC (less than 0.03%), because it is made from the entire hemp plant. CBD isolate, however, contains only CBD. Most research indicates that full-spectrum is the most effective due to the powerful interactions of all the cannabinoids working together. You ingest the tincture by dropping the CBD oil directly under your tongue (sublingual application) and there are usually bottles of 300, 600, 1200, or 3000 milligrams.
  • Capsules – These are ingested orally and must be broken down in your GI tract. Bottles usually have 300, 750, 1500 or 3000 milligrams. This method of administration is less efficient than sublingual tinctures. However, some people prefer this method because they don’t like the taste of tinctures. Also, taking CBD capsules is much more discreet than using a tincture. 
  • Edibles – These are also ingested orally and come in a variety of flavors. Most bottles have 300, 750, 1500, or 3000 milligrams. Similar to capsules, CBD edibles are also very discreet. They come in a variety of tasty flavors.
  • CBD Flower

The research into endocannabinoid deficiency is ongoing, although most studies indicate that CBD has a wide variety of benefits for your overall wellness. It is a safe, natural, and effective cannabinoid that has the potential to treat CED. Read more!.