Endocannabinoid Deficiency | What Illnesses Might it Lead To?

Endocannabinoid Deficiency
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Endocannabinoids, also known as endogenous cannabinoids, are organic molecules produced in the human body. These molecules play a vital role in maintaining homeostasis i.e., they help to run internal functions of the human body smoothly. An endocannabinoid deficiency, therefore, can cause considerable problems in our body.

What is The Endocannabinoid System?

The Endogenous Cannabinoid System (ECS) is one of the most important physiologic systems. It helps in establishing and maintaining human health. Its main purpose is to keep our body in optimum operating conditions.

Till now, scientists have identified two chief endocannabinoids; Anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Endocannabinoids and their receptors exist all over the body e.g., in our brain, tissue glands, immune cells, and act as a bridge between the mind and the body.

Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and its Receptors

Simply put, ECS is a network system of receptors in  our body that act as access points for endocannabinoid molecules. On the activation of these receptors in a particular area of the body, endocannabinoids bind to them in order to signal that the ECS needs to take action. Two key endocannabinoid receptors are:

  • CB1 receptors (found in the central nervous system),
  • CB2 receptors (found in immune cells). 

Endocannabinoids can bind to either of the receptors. The resultant effect would depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.

For example, endocannabinoids could bind to CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain, or to a CB2 receptor in immune cells to indicate that our body is experiencing inflammation. This permits the ECS to maintain the body’s homeostasis through a range of chemical reactions. The ECS system plays a role in sustaining a number of important physiological processes such as appetite, digestion, sleep, fertility, reproduction etc.

Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome (CECD)

Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome is a set of symptoms that may occur as a result of a deficiency in a body’s endocannabinoids levels. These low levels could either be due to the lack of and/or less endocannabinoids production in the body. Faulty receptors may also result in these low levels. 

This theory was first put forward in 2004, by Dr. Ethan Russo where he suggested that the lack of cannabinoids may be the underlying cause of several conditions.

Current research so far also indicates that low endocannabinoid levels in our body or an ECS dysfunction can contribute to the development of certain medical conditions. These include irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraine, mood disorders, chronic pain, weak metabolism, skin and nerve functions, inflammation, and other such ailments associated to our immune system. These conditions are many times impervious to treatment and occur alongside each other.

Since the initial proposition, this theory has widened to include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as two conditions potentially related to CECD. Although the endocannabinoid deficiency theory is rooted in scientific studies, more research is needed to clarify and fully understand endocannabinoid deficiency.


1. Brugnatelli, Viola, et al. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Manipulating the Endocannabinoid System as First-Line Treatment.” Frontiers in neuroscience 14 (2020): 371.

2. Zou, Shenglong, and Ujendra Kumar. “Cannabinoid receptors and the endocannabinoid system: signaling and function in the central nervous system.” International journal of molecular sciences 19.3 (2018): 833.

3. Russo, Ethan B. “Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency reconsidered: Current research supports the theory in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel, and other treatment-resistant syndromes.” Cannabis and cannabinoid research 1.1 (2016): 154-165.

4. Alger, Bradley E. “Getting high on the endocannabinoid system.” Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science. Vol. 2013. Dana Foundation, 2013.

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