Balancing the Endocannabinoid System: The Secret to Bliss

December 17, 2020 – By Sandy Yanez

There are currently many uses of medical marijuana. Glaucoma, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety disorders, fibromyalgia, and even some forms of cancers are just are some examples of a few ailments treated with medical marijuana. Have you ever wondered just why this plant seems to serve as a wonder drug for so many illnesses? Well, some scientists claim a hypothesis to answer this question. It suggests that many people suffer from “clinical endocannabinoid deficiency” (CED). Our own endocannabinoid system (ECS) is somehow deficient, and this is why medical marijuana helps treat so many disorders.

What is Endocannabinoid Deficiency?

First proposed by Dr. Ethan Russo in 2001, the clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD) theory implies that due to various factors, the body results in an endocannabinoid system deficiency.

It’s a theory based on neurotransmitter deficiencies that can cause even more underlying problems. In a published study from 2004, Dr. Russo explores the concept of CECD and details how:

“Migraine, fibromyalgia, IBS and related conditions display common clinical, biochemical and pathophysiological patterns that suggest an underlying clinical endocannabinoid deficiency…”

This idea suggests that through a lack of proper endocannabinoid production, or an endocannabinoid deficiency, further issues may ensue. The ECS can be a critical part of numerous bodily functions, including sleep, mood, clarity, and much more, endocannabinoid deficiency can cause problems that result in lingering issues.

Russo’s endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome research shows that any alterations that effect varying levels of endocannabinoids – either through the destruction and failure in production or the weakening and strengthening of cannabinoid receptors – can influence its regulatory capabilities for several functions.

What Causes Endocannabinoid Deficiency?

The endocannabinoid system is considered the largest network of neurotransmitters in your body, which is responsible for regulating several important functions. When signals from the ECS begin to transmit at improper levels, it can result in endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome.

An endocannabinoid deficiency can occur in four unique ways:

  1. Not enough cannabinoid receptors

There simply are not enough connectors for the endocannabinoids to attach themselves and without a connector, the signal cannot be transmitted to its designated area.

  1. An overabundance of metabolic enzymes

Meaning your body is producing too much fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) enzymes that break down endocannabinoid compounds or they do so too soon before the endocannabinoid can bind to a receptor.

  1. Synthesizing insufficient endocannabinoids

Your body is not correctly making N-arachidonoylethanolamide (AEA) or anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) cannabinoid compounds; these deformed or incomplete molecules possibly can’t make it to the receptors or can’t attach and transmit successfully if they do arrive.

  1. Not enough action between endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors

There is not adequate communication happening with the compounds and the connectors; this effect could be caused by anything from improper attachment to weak signaling.

What are the Signs of Endocannabinoid Deficiency and How to Maintain Regularity?

The signals transmitted by endocannabinoids can change in quantity, which means that the available cannabinoid receptors in the body would need to either increase or decrease too. It is this fluctuation that can restrict how your body reaches homeostasis – leading to potential complications.

One significant concept for boosting or balancing your endocannabinoid system is the use of phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC. Cannabinoids found in plants like cannabis, including cannabidiol (CBD), are comparable to the endocannabinoids naturally produced by the body. Research shows that they interact with the cannabinoid receptors of the endocannabinoid system to elicit chemical responses that help bring about homeostasis. However, using phytocannabinoids should not be seen as a one-size-fits-all solution. CBD can be a complimentary addition to any traditional healthy lifestyle.

Here are some signs that may indicate an endocannabinoid deficiency and how to regulate them:

1. Lack of sleep

Sleep-wake cycles are an expression of homeostasis in action—a dynamic, ongoing balance of rest and activity that is essential for survival, vitality and health. Research shows that the endocannabinoid system can regulate several parts of the brain and body that are crucial to a good night’s rest through the activity of CB1 receptors. This stimulation of receptors can influence your natural sleep pattern. With increased anandamide in the brain, the amount of adenosine, another natural chemical that affects sleep and arousal, also becomes increased. With an imbalance or deficiency of endocannabinoids, the lack of CB1 activity could lead to sleep deprivation.

 Sleeping better

Studies have indicated that high dosages, 25mg (or higher) of CBD may support sleep. Additionally, CBD may also decrease anxiety and pain, which can both interfere with restful sleep. By reducing certain symptoms, it’s also possible that sleep may improve.

Other natural ways to help you sleep would be to develop a sleep routine that includes going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even your days off. Establishing a sleep/wake pattern reduces sleep cycle disturbances. Low intensity exercise like stretching, yoga or evening walks reduces stress and allow an ease into the sleep cycle. Also avoiding unhealthy foods and alcohol improve overall wellness resulting in better sleep. Try instead lavender or chamomile teas. The use of electronics such as TV stimulates brain activity, instead try soft instrumental music or meditation.

2. Poor diet

Foods with a lot of trans-fats and way too many calories are not good diet choices regardless. Pro-inflammatory foods, in particular, can cause adverse effects to the endocannabinoid system. There’s also a microbiome – genetic material containing an accumulation of symbiotic and pathogenic bacteria – within the gut that plays a role in regulating the ECS. Endocannabinoids control your appetite, which is why THC stimulates hunger, and a poor diet can lead to increased production of endocannabinoids in the intestine and circulatory system, making you hungrier.

Adding to this problem is that fat cells produce even more endocannabinoids, which means that overweight people often have higher levels of endocannabinoids prompting their hunger, making it harder to lose weight. Fortunately, by increasing your intake of omega- 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can improve your situation.

Dietary Needs

Omega-3’s are the building blocks for CB1 receptor formation. CB1 receptors facilitate the absorption of THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. So, if you’re looking for an effective and healthy way to boost your uptake make sure you’re consuming the proper amount of omega-3 fatty acids. One of the most abundant and healthy sources of omega-3 fatty acids is the hemp plant. Hemp seeds are believed to have the optimal ratio of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids (1:3), this ratio emulates the ratio found in the human body. Many seeds and legumes are high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, fish oil supplements are an option as well. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, sardines, and tuna, nuts and seeds including flax, walnuts, chia seeds and of course hemp seeds.

Other foods include:

  • Herbs – Lemon balm, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, hops, black pepper, and other types of herbs all contain the terpene beta-caryophyllene (an anti-inflammatory); it’s a substance that helps stimulate the CB2 receptors connecting to our peripheral nervous system.
  • Chocolate – Cacao powder, a type of cocoa solid, has compounds (anandamide) similar to endocannabinoids on a molecular level. The compounds found in cacao can lead to increased levels of endocannabinoids by inhibiting their metabolic breakdowns. These cannabinoid-type compounds are most abundant in raw cacao and dark chocolate.
  • Tea – Certain teas, such as turmeric tea, echinacea tea, and Camellia sinensis, have beneficial properties that can raise endocannabinoid levels, stimulate CB2 receptors, and help to restrict endocannabinoids from breaking down.

Probiotics are good bacteria that are native to our gut. They are a crucial part of digestion and disease prevention. Over time, exposure to environmental toxins, overuse of antibiotics, and chemicals in our food affect the natural production of these vital microbes and our health begin a downward spiral. This directly impacts the health of our endocannabinoid system and creates imbalances. Prebiotics are vegetables that feed the probiotics and encourage digestive health. By adding both probiotics and prebiotics into your daily regiment you promote ECS health and overall wellness.

Probiotic Food Sources- yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods

Prebiotic Food Sources- onion, garlic, leeks, sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes, burdock root

3. Stress

You’ve heard about CBD and stress. Did you know stress could potentially be a factor in endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome? While stress responses are often useful to quickly react to threats and staying alive from danger, remaining in a heightened state of stress can lead to some harmful effects. During stressful situations, the body reduces its levels of the anandamide. Your body also increases the level of the 2-AG endocannabinoid during this time to weaken pain perception and trigger memory to help flee from stressful situations and to evade other dangers. Being in this state for prolonged periods may indicate endocannabinoid system deficiency and your ECS producing too much or not enough of either endocannabinoid.

Scientifically proven ways to de-stress

NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health discusses studied relaxation techniques including progressive relaxation, meditation, tai chi, and deep breathing exercises. Other proven ways to de-stress are, eating healthy, gardening, and caring for house plants, less electronic use, and listening to music.

  • Exercise – walking helps to clear your head and boost endorphins, which reduces stress hormones. Exercising daily is a great way to alleviate symptoms of depression.
  • Eating healthy – certain pesticides and chemicals are known to disrupt the ECS and are frequently added to plastic, tin, food containers, and water bottles. Choosing organic foods and drinking from glass or stainless-steel containers is best for improving your health.
  • Gardening – “playing” in the dirt is known as earthing or grounding and has been shown to be a major contributor to our physical functioning and wellness. We know that just 15 min of sunlight helps our bodies to produce vitamin D and can boost our moods. So, if you are looking for a boost, head for the garden, go for a walk, or eat lunch outside and enjoy yourself.
  • Music – research shows that people who listen to upbeat music could improve their moods and boost their happiness in just two weeks.
  • Unplug – There are several studies demonstrating how electronics can be damaging to our overall health and tend to lead individuals to living a much more isolated life. Many times, people will spend hours at a time playing video games or being on some other form of electronic device, which leads to isolation from the outside world.


Endocannabinoids play a major role in brain reward regions during and after exercise. Exercise induces changes in your mental status, particularly with pain, sleep, anxiety, and a sense of wellbeing. Physical activity is essential for any form of a healthy lifestyle, but it considerably helps the ECS in contrast to sedentary behavior.

Have you ever experienced runner’s high or noticed that a brief work out makes you feel invigorated? This is due to a neurobiological response. Scientific studies show that anandamide levels are elevated shortly after rigorous exercise. This is a fast and free way to naturally encourage homeostasis and improve your mood.

An intense physical workout may not be the best approach for those looking to boost their everyday wellness, so you should start with low-impact aerobics. Yoga is an excellent practice that uses controlled breathing (mind), physical postures (body), and meditation (spirit), which often combine to create a state of bliss.

                                                                                                                                                Checking family history

An endocannabinoid deficiency isn’t necessarily hereditary, but a few tendencies could be genetic. If your family has a history of lingering concerns, there may be an underlying reason for an imbalance of endocannabinoids or an endocannabinoid system deficiency. Check for any harmful habits you may be unaware of sharing.


While cannabis plays an intricate role in supporting the bodies endocannabinoid function, specific foods and lifestyle choices can also enhance its actions.   As we begin to look further into complementary and alternative ways to heal, it is critical to understand how our body systems work and how the fuel we use has a huge impact on the performance of those systems.