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Cannabinoids 101 – Endocannabinoids vs Phytocannabinoids

endocannabinoids phytocannabinoids
Written by Alexandra Hicks

Cannabinoids are a group of diverse chemical compounds that act on the cannabinoid receptor cells within our bodies. They are broken down into two main categories, endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.

When it comes to the topic of endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids, the two are very similar but they also have some striking differences, starting with their origins. Both types will interact the CB1 and CB2 receptors found in the nervous systems of all mammals, but endocannabinoids are naturally produced by the body and phytocannabinoids come from various parts of the cannabis plant.


Endocannabinoids are internal lipid-based neurotransmitters and one of several components that work together to make up the endocannabinoid system. This regulatory system is known for keeping several biological processes in a state of balance. Some of its common functions include managing pain, memory, cognition, mood, immune response, sleep, and appetite.

So far, researchers have been able to identify two separate endocannabinoids: 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and anandamide (AEA). 2-AG is a full agonist of both the CB1 and CB2 receptors but it has a more direct association with the CB2 receptor. Because of this, 2-AG is thought to have a substantial influence over the immune system and it can also regulate pain related to inflammation.

AEA is only a partial agonist of both CB receptors but it seems to have a stronger bond with the CB1 receptor. AEA is synthesized in the medial temporal lobe which is the part of the brain that controls memory, motivation, and higher-order thinking. It’s also believed to play a role in pain management, fertility, anxiety, and appetite.


Phytocannabinoids are the cannabinoids derived from plants, specifically cannabis. They imitate many of the actions of endocannabinoids and they also activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Many people don’t produce enough of their own endocannabinoids – a condition referred to as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD) – so supplementing with phytocannabinoids is essential to their overall well-being.

Scientists believe that CECD might play a substantial role in the development of many common conditions including: fibromyalgia, pain, anorexia, depression, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraines, multiple sclerosis (MS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), neuropathy, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, motion sickness, and autism.

Some of these plant cannabinoids include THC, CBD, CBG, CBN, CBDa, and THCa. In total, there are 113 cannabinoids found in cannabis. The two most prominent ones are THC and CBD. THC is the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant and although it’s frequently the subject of intense scrutiny, it has many undeniable health benefits. CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid and has been proven through years of research to have tremendous therapeutic value.

To Summarize

As you can see, endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids have a lot in common but they also have some notable differences. Regardless, both have an affinity for the CB1 and CB2 receptors in our bodies and, when combined, can do wonders for treating a myriad of ailments and also contribute to our overall health.

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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.