Addiction is a disease with a lot of science behind it. One aspect of this science involves the endocannabinoid system. But what is that?

What Are Endocannabinoids?

The endocannabinoid system within our body has a variety of functions. This system works to regulate many of our critical bodily functions. By regulating our sleep, temperature, eating, and immune responses, the endocannabinoid system helps us maintain homeostasis. Along with maintaining homeostasis, our endocannabinoid system works to regulate our memory, learning ability, emotional response processing, and pain control. Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors to create this system.

Although these neurotransmitters are not often discussed, endocannabinoids play important roles in various systems within our body. They are released through the activation of metabotropic receptors and send signals of information throughout the body.

They play a large role in our ability to manage our use of energy and regulate our endocrine system. The endocrine system’s function is to control our hormones. By affecting the endocrine system, endocannabinoids help us regulate our mood, develop our body and organs, and allow our reproductive system to properly function.

How Do Endocannabinoids Affect Addiction?

Since endocannabinoids work to regulate our main body functions, they play a large role in our reward circuit. By ensuring you have had enough sleep, are at a comfortable temperature, or had enough food or water, endocannabinoids encourage your brain to send rewarding signals throughout your body to share this information. These signals are an act of the reward circuit, sending pleasurable sensations throughout the body.

Through the positive and negative reinforcing signals sent by the reward circuit, the body can develop an understanding that it needs to avoid things that are not pleasurable. Sadly, this reward system often runs off immediate gratification and does not infer the potential long-term effects involved. If your body is craving sugar, for example, you will likely feel satisfied after eating your favorite sweet. Similar effects occur with substance use, which leads to the reinforcement of this unhealthy behavior and the continuation of the addiction cycle.

While endocannabinoids work with our reward system, these receptors themselves do not send rewarding signals. However, they act by communicating with these receptors, signaling our reward system to transfer information to the rest of our bodies. When a substance with addictive properties is used, the endocannabinoid system will send signals to the reward system, which begins the process.


Fortunately, the endocannabinoid system has the potential to aid the process of recovery. As you begin to feel negative withdrawal effects or have a bad experience with the use of the substance, endocannabinoids will tell their receptors to send a negative reinforcing response to your reward system, telling your body that it should not like this situation. If your body links this negative reinforcement with the use of the substance rather than the lack of it, you could potentially develop a natural desire to stop using the substance, rather than increased cravings.

This response is not very common and should not be depended on for the recovery process. As researchers discover more information about endocannabinoids and their effects on our bodies, we may someday be able to implement the use of the endocannabinoid system to help people overcome the obstacles of recovery.

Correlation With Cannabis

The use of most substances increases the levels of active endocannabinoids within the body. This likely includes the use of cannabis. While scientists are currently studying the potential medical benefits of cannabis, we could infer that because cannabis affects our endocannabinoid system, it may have the potential to be addictive. The use of cannabis would increase the number of receptors communicating with the rewards system in the body and release reinforcing factors that may lead to the development of addiction. 

Potential Concerns

The use of marijuana can be a concern, especially with regard to your endocannabinoid system. As our bodies naturally have cannabinoid receptors, marijuana can affect these receptors and have a negative impact on our brain development. There are many dangers involved with the use of this substance, and the products used for marijuana have been drastically altered over the last decade.

Marijuana is often broken down into two main components: THC and CBD. THC is known to cause euphoric sensations, which are often described as producing the “high” that people may crave when using marijuana. Conversely, CBD is a cannabinoid that promotes feelings of relaxation. While CBD does not appear to have any addictive qualities, THC does. Many of the concerns about marijuana are related to the THC in the substance.

Being aware of the potential concerns involved with the use of cannabinoid products and the influence that the endocannabinoid system can have on the development of addiction can be extremely useful. As more research is done, we hope to find a way to use our endocannabinoid system as an assistant through the recovery process.

The endocannabinoid system helps our bodies maintain homeostasis and communicate with our internal reward systems. Through information from cannabinoid receptors, the body determines if the use of a substance introduced to it should be positively or negatively reinforced. As this information is only about the current situation, it will often encourage positive feelings toward a harmful substance, without regard for the potential for long-term damage. Understanding the role of these receptors can help you to understand how the cycle of addiction is reinforced and why the body signals positive reinforcements for a substance that will later cause problems. The endocannabinoid system has many functions throughout our body when activated. The full functionality of this system is still being researched. To gain a further understanding of the endocannabinoid system, how it works, and how it can affect addiction, reach out to Dream Recovery at (949) 732-1960.

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