How the Endocannabinoid System Interacts And Affects Our Hormones

Marissa Bergen
Jul 23, 2019 · 7 min read

Cannabinoids are becoming more and more popular in the world of natural medicine. As research continues, we are learning more about how their effects stem from the way they interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Hormones are chemical messengers to the body that travel in our blood to organs and tissues, signaling them to work. They can affect different processes in our body including metabolism, health and mood, all of which are also affected by cannabinoids and the way they react with the ECS.

In this article, we will be taking a closer look at the relationship between hormones and the endocannabinoid system to better understand how cannabinoids work in the body.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The ECS is a physiological system involved in health maintenance. The system’s receptors are found in the brain, numerous organs, connective tissues, glands and immune cells. Because it has so many points of interaction within the body, it has a powerful effect on the body as well as the mind.

When cannabinoids are introduced to the body, they react with the system’s receptors (CB1 and CB2 receptors) to produce different results throughout the body.

What is the Endocrine System?

The endocrine system is a collection of glands that secretes hormones to the bloodstream, to be carried towards organs throughout the rest of the body. The central neuroendocrine system is the interface between the brain and the rest of the endocrine systems.

The part of the brain that regulates the release of hormones in called the hypothalamus. It sits on top of the pituitary gland and works to regulate stress, metabolism, growth, reproduction and lactation. These are regulated when the hypothalamus releases or inhibits the release of hormones by the pituitary gland.

The release of these hormones affects certain physiological functions in the body. These enable the nervous system to respond rapidly to internal or external environmental changes and maintain a response through endocrine hormonal transducers.

The ECS modulates the regulation of the neuroendocrine system working to maintain organ functions, stress response and a healthy balance overall.

The ECS and Endocrine Regulation

When cannabinoids interact with the ECS, they affect the secretion of pituitary hormones. They regulate hormonal balance through the effect they have on the organs.

They stimulate the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA) to produce a response to stress that is dependent on the CB1 receptor signaling. Activating these receptors results in a series of signaling events that inhibits overall neuroendocrine function. The endocrine response, as part of the HPA axis, is central to its regulation.

Up until a few years ago, scientists thought the stimulatory effects cannabinoids had on the HPA axis was an exception. It was thought that the ECS played an inhibitory role on neuroendocrine functions.

Today, we understand that the functions can be both stimulatory and inhibitory, which is how it modulates regulation.

How CBD Comes Into Play

Now let’s look at how cannabinoids come into play in all this.

CBD does not interact strongly with the CB receptors. Rather it inhibits fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that breaks down cannabinoids in the body. Its effect as a FAAH inhibitor makes it helpful for people suffering with anxiety disorders. It also may improve the regulation of the HPA axis to modulate the sensitivity of cannabinoid receptors in the body.

But in addition to stimulating the HPA, it can also work to play an inhibitory role. It can negatively modulate the stress induced activation of the HPA axis. This makes for an increase in endocannabinoid signaling activity which can also be helpful in treating anxiety disorders.

The way CBD and other cannabinoids react with the endocrine system also make it promising in treatment of infertility, obesity, diabetes and even some diseases associated with the cardiovascular system.

CBD and Hormones in the Body

CBD and Cortisol: Another way CBD is effective in treating anxiety is dependent on the way it interacts with the hormone, cortisol.

The endocrine system manages our response to stress via hormones like epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. Cortisol is one of the main hormones involved in managing a stress response. It produces the fight or flight instinct that is necessary for survival but increased levels of the hormone can lead to weight gain, mood swings and anxiety.

CBD is believed to interfere with the secretion of cortisol decreasing its prevalence in plasma samples and making levels drop significantly.

CBD and Insulin: The endocrine system also works to manage the metabolism. It produces hormones in the pancreas, one of which is insulin.

Insulin helps the body absorb and store nutrients from food and allow sugar to pass from your bloodstream to individual cells.

Insulin imbalances have detrimental effects to health. Too much insulin can lead to high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and too little insulin can lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). When blood sugar levels are constantly high, diabetes can occur.

The relationship between CBD, insulin and the metabolism is still unclear, but animal studies have shown that there was a drop in diabetes related to the use of CBD. Other studies have shown it can impact the functioning of the pancreas in such a way that it affects insulin production, blood sugar levels and more.

CBD and Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the body. It spikes at night to make us sleepy and levels out in the morning.

The ECS plays a key role in regulating sleep via the activation of the CB1 receptors. CBD reacts with the receptors in the pineal gland to stimulate the secretion of sleep hormones like melatonin, helping to affect the sleep cycle and energy levels to regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

The ECS and Estrogen

As CBD oil becomes more accepted in the medical field, many wonder what affects it has on sex hormones, reproductive functions and other critical health issues like cognition and immune health.

One interesting fact to look at when studying the relationship between the ECS and hormones is that women have been found to be more susceptible to the abuse of cannabinoids and the development of dependence. They also tend to experience more withdrawal symptoms and relapse more often than men do. In addition, it’s been found that women are more impacted when under the influence. Female adolescents, in particular, are more adversely affected by the use of marijuana as opposed to men, most likely due to estrogen levels.

The cannabinoid was shown to have a direct relationship with the ECS and gonadal hormones. These are hormones that are located in the gonads and include steroid gonads such as estrogen and progesterone from the ovaries and testosterone from the gonads.

The ECS is involved in many functions, including sexual behavior which is regulated by gonadal hormones paving the way for there to be a complex bidirectional interaction, specifically when changes to the HPG axis occur.

When thinking of the relationship between endocannabinoids and estrogen, here is what is currently known:

The CB1 is modulated by estrogen, which also increases anandamide synthesis while decreasing FAAH activity. FAAH is the principal enzyme which degrades anandamide. Degrading the enzyme increases the amount of anandamide that is present.

This, in turn, decreases GnRH release to make for less FSH and LH release. This leads to a decrease of estrogen from the ovaries. It also down regulates FAAH activity in the uterus and immune cells.

Endocannabinoid activity and CB1 receptor functions fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle. In humans, the amount of anandamide circulating is higher during the follicular stage and lower during the luteal stage.

This means the ECS plays a role in the regulation of the menstrual cycle as well as fertility.

Various levels of the ECS have been found in the ovaries and uterus and levels can vary in a set matter during the time of embryo implantation.

Data suggests that low anandamide levels are best for implantation and carrying a baby to term while higher levels facilitate the labor process.

In pregnant women, anandamide levels are typically low throughout pregnancy but surge right before labor is about to take place. When, due to unforeseen circumstances, a surge occurs during pregnancy, miscarriages are more likely to happen.

Furthermore, animal studies have shown that the administration of estradiol can increase levels of anandamide causing antidepressant effects. This impact on emotion is believed to be elicited through the endocannabinoid system.

The recent research that links estrogen and the endocannabinoid system should open up new ways of looking at the human body, especially in relation to women. This will allow us to continue on our medical journey with a clear understanding of the role the ECS plays in a women’s reproductive, emotional and immune health.

This article has highlighted the connection between hormones and the ECS, not only for women, but for all people. This information opens new doors in the medical community and is shedding light on the understanding of the functions of the human body and the role cannabinoids play on well-being.

Quality CBD

Your place for Cannabis information, latest news and…

Marissa Bergen

Written by

Marissa Bergen is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, New York. Passionate about everything from fashion to natural wellness, her writing and personal experience

Quality CBD

Your place for Cannabis information, latest news and studies, as well as products and brand reviews.

More From Medium

More from Quality CBD

More from Quality CBD

More from Quality CBD

Cannabis and Driving

More from Quality CBD

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade