Endocannabinoid Deficiency

Could you be endocannabinoid deficient? Some illnesses may point to that. 

Naturally-produced endocannabinoids help the body regulate physiology. Specific ailments may be linked to an endocannabinoid deficiency.

Most people want to live the healthiest life possible. They do so through exercise and healthy eating, mostly. But there may be other factors to overall health that aren’t being addressed. In particular, the body’s natural endocannabinoid system (ECS) is increasingly becoming a topic of interest in conversations about overall health.

The underlying cause of some of your ills may be traced back to the ECS. If you’re constantly fatigued, stressed, or cognitively-impaired, or if you suffer from certain treatment-resistant conditions, you may be endocannabinoid deficient.

What’s more, the rise in popularity of cannabis has revealed the unique interactions that cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have with the ECS.

Understanding more about the ECS and regulating the body could make the difference between a healthy life and one of constant struggle.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

Interestingly, the ECS was discovered relatively recently in the 1980s. After a spike in research into THC and CBD in the 19th and 20th centuries, a lab at St. Louis University was finally able to detect how those two compounds interact with the body. By the ’90s, two receptors — CB1 and CB2 — were discovered as a binding site for THC and CBD. 

Cannabis plants consist of what are known as cannabinoids. The two most popular are THC and CBD, but there are over 100 others. Cannabinoids produced in cannabis plants are known as phytocannabinoids. These are different from endogenous cannabinoids, or endocannabinoids, that are produced naturally in the body.

Endocannabinoids produced in the body include anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which help regulate physiological processes.

All cannabinoids interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors that are prolific throughout the body. CB1 receptors are concentrated in the central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are more abundant in the peripheral nervous system.

In summary, the ECS can be described as a system of receptors throughout the nervous system that interacts with cannabinoids to produce physiological effects. 

The role of the endocannabinoid system.

As mentioned before, ECS produces various physiological effects through the interaction of cannabinoids and the enzymes they modulate. Some critical processes that the ECS plays a role in are:

  • Appetite
  • Stress
  • Energy
  • Memory
  • Sleep

With this in mind, it’s important to note what sort of effects it could have if your body were not producing enough endocannabinoids. People who struggle with any of the items above may have an endocannabinoid deficiency.

What is endocannabinoid deficiency?

When your body isn’t producing enough endocannabinoids, it could disrupt the system that is aiding in your body’s homeostasis or overall balance. Unsurprisingly, this should lead to disruptions in stress management, sleep, memory, and more. 

While the research into endocannabinoid deficiency is still in its infancy, there are already several well-cited papers that suggest that it is behind some significant treatment-resistant conditions. 

In a 2008 study by Dr. Ethan B. Russo, he describes a link between endocannabinoid deficiency and treatment-resistant conditions such as migraines, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) fibromyalgia. He concludes that these conditions “display common clinical, biochemical and pathophysiological patterns that suggest an underlying clinical endocannabinoid deficiency that may be suitably treated with cannabinoid medicines.”

Here’s an overview of each of the conditions mentioned in Russo’s study:


Migraines are severe headaches that can cause nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Causes include stress and diet. They are often relieved with pain medications. 


Fibromyalgia is an ailment affecting the muscles, causing widespread pain. It is also characterized by issues with sleepiness and fatigue, and problems with mood and memory. Stress is a common cause of fibromyalgia, and talk therapy is sometimes used as a remedy.

Irritable bowel syndrome

IBS is a gastrointestinal ailment characterized by stomach pains, constipation, or diarrhea. While the causes are not well understood, the best way to manage IBS is by reducing stress and improving diet.

So given the causes and remedies for the above-listed ailments, you can start to see how they could be linked to the ECS. 

In a 2016 study published in the National Library of Medicine, Dr. Russo offers a more focused look at how the endocannabinoid system is linked to migraines, IBS, and fibromyalgia. He states that given a decrease in endocannabinoids, “it follows that a lowered pain threshold would be operative, along with derangements of digestion, mood, and sleep among the almost universal physiological systems subserved by the endocannabinoid system (ECS).”

Endocannabinoid deficiency and phytocannabinoids

Phytocannabinoids such as THC and CBD operate similarly to endocannabinoids that are naturally produced in the body. By binding to CB1 and CB2 receptors, cannabis compounds can also modulate physiology.

In particular, CBD is known to produce potent anti-inflammatory effects to treat ailments ranging from anxiety to epilepsy. 

For these reasons, someone suffering from endocannabinoid deficiency may find a solution in supplementing the body’s ECS with cannabis-derived cannabinoids.

Are you endocannabinoid deficient?

Living a healthy life involves putting work into a good diet, exercise, and stress management. However, sometimes these are not enough to prevent common problems. There may be more to the story than what’s on the surface. 

If you are suffering from treatment-resistant conditions like IBS, fibromyalgia, or migraines, then you may have an endocannabinoid deficiency. Even if you have milder issues, such as chronic stress, mood, sleep, or appetite problems, consider supplementing your wellness plan with cannabinoids like CBD.


author avatar
Andrew Mattison

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