The endocannabinoid system refers to a group of neuromodulatory lipids and their receptors that are involved in a variety of physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory.
It mediates the psychoactive effects of cannabis and, broadly speaking, includes:
- The endogenous arachidonate-based lipids, anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamide, AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG); these are known as “endocannabinoids” and are physiological ligands for the cannabinoid receptors. Endocannabinoids are all eicosanoids.
- The enzymes that synthesize and degrade the endocannabinoids, such as fatty acid amide hydrolase or monoacylglycerol lipase.
- The cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, two G protein-coupled receptors that are located in the central and peripheral nervous systems.
- The endocannabinoid system has been studied using genetic and pharmacological methods. These studies have revealed that cannabis act as neuromodulators for a variety of physiological processes, including motor learning, synaptic plasticity, appetite, and pain sensation.