Endocannabinoid System Deficiency

Endocannabinoid System Deficiency: Is There Such a Thing?

With the growing popularity of cannabis compounds such as CBD, there’s been an increased awareness of the regulatory system in our bodies with which these cannabinoids interact — the endocannabinoid system (ECS). 

In recent years, you may have come across the term "endocannabinoid system deficiency." This notion suggests that certain physical and mental wellness concerns could be attributed to insufficiencies within the endocannabinoid system. While the scientific community has yet to form a consensus on ECS deficiency, it’s worth taking a look at this concept and its potential implications for your health and well-being.

What Is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

Before we jump into the concept of ECS deficiency, it makes sense to understand the ECS itself. Basically, the endocannabinoid system is an internal cell-signaling network responsible for regulating various vital functions in the body — such as immune response, sleep, metabolism, mood, and cognition, just to name a few. This is performed through the interaction of signaling chemicals and receptors:

  • ECS receptors are located all over the body. They’re the buttons that are pushed in the ECS to elicit a response.

  • The signaling chemicals — endocannabinoids (cannabinoids created within the body) and metabolic enzymes — are the messengers in the ECS. The enzymes create and later break down the endocannabinoids, and the endocannabinoids bind or interact with the receptors to create a response.

Because plant-based cannabinoids, known as phytocannabinoids (like CBD and THC, for example), share a similar structure with endocannabinoids, they’re able to interact with ECS receptors in much the same way.

As the ECS affects nearly every physical and mental operation in the body, it’s clear that its proper function is crucial to our general health and well-being. So what happens if there’s an endocannabinoid deficiency? Is there even such a thing? 

The Endocannabinoid System Deficiency Debate

The term “endocannabinoid deficiency” was introduced in 2004 by Dr. Ethan Russo, a neurologist and cannabinoid scientist. He proposed that reduced function of the ECS would result in a lowered pain threshold as well as a disturbance in digestion, sleep, and mood, among other things.1 

“There’s a lot of debate on the subject of ECS deficiency,” says Mandy Bliss, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, PMHNP-BC, who sits on the Cornbread Hemp Medical Advisory Board. “In the medical community, it’s known as ‘endocannabinoid tone,’ and it’s very controversial.”

While we can’t measure the balance of the endocannabinoid system, Bliss explains, we can look at symptoms and signs. Though the idea of an ECS deficiency has yet to be accepted by the scientific community, there’s strong evidence in support of supplementing the ECS with cannabinoids to bring about relief from different maladies.2

ECS Deficiency — Causes and Symptoms

According to the endocannabinoid deficiency theory, there are various factors underlying dysfunction of the ECS.

Endocannabinoid System Deficiency Causes

A few factors that may cause low endocannabinoid levels or other forms of ECS deficiency include:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental toxins
  • Physical injury
  • Stress
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise

Because the ECS affects such a wide array of functions within the body, symptoms of an endocannabinoid deficiency can emerge from nearly every system, presenting both physically and mentally. However, there are specific symptoms that may indicate an ECS deficiency.

Endocannabinoid System Deficiency Symptoms

Symptoms of an endocannabinoid deficiency include: 

  • Lowered pain threshold
  • Issues with digestion
  • Mood disorders
  • Sleep difficulties

    How To Support and Repair the Endocannabinoid System

    From exercise to nutrition, there are potential ways to repair the endocannabinoid system and stimulate the natural production of endocannabinoids. Here are a few things you can incorporate into your routine that may help:

    • Regular exercise: A recent study performed by Hilary Marusak, a neuroscientist at Wayne State University School of Medicine, found that exercise reliably increased endocannabinoid levels within the body.3
    • Cold exposure: Exposure to cold has been observed to increase endocannabinoid levels.4 Simply standing under cold water for the last 30 seconds of your shower could make a difference. 
    • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO): Studies have shown that EVOO plays a part in upregulating (increasing the activity of) one of the ECS receptors (CB1).5 
    • Full spectrum CBD: In addition to its other potential beneficial properties (anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, etc.), CBD supplements containing the full spectrum of phytocannabinoids, including THC, works within the ECS to prevent the breakdown of endocannabinoids. This results in higher endocannabinoid levels and improved function of the ECS. In the next section we’ll explain why full spectrum CBD is potentially more effective than other types of CBD (such as CBD isolate — which is refined in order to remove all other cannabinoids, terpenes, and plant matter, leaving behind only pure CBD in its isolated form).

    Supporting the ECS with CBD

    Whether you suspect you have an ECS deficiency or you just want to improve ECS function, you can support the ECS with exogenous cannabinoids (those found outside of the body), such as CBD and THC, in the form of supplements.

    Full spectrum CBD works by preventing the degradation of endocannabinoids (as mentioned in the section above) and by stimulating ECS receptors. While THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) can be effective in activating ECS receptors on its own, its use is poorly tolerated by patients.7 For this reason, full spectrum CBD supplements (which contain a small amount of THC) are an especially useful option, as side effects are rare.

    How Full Spectrum CBD Works To Support the ECS

    • By inhibiting the breakdown of endocannabinoids, CBD allows them to act on receptors for longer than they normally would, enhancing their effects.

    • When CBD and THC are taken together (as with a full spectrum supplement), CBD may reduce unwanted side effects of THC but still permit benefits like ECS receptor stimulation, reduced inflammation, and pain relief.
    • Full spectrum CBD contains all the other cannabinoids, as well as the flavonoids and terpenes (aroma-producing compounds), that are naturally present in cannabis. These work together to enhance the beneficial effects of each individual compound (a phenomenon called the “entourage effect.”)

    Full Spectrum CBD From Cornbread Hemp

    As much as we know about the endocannabinoid system, there’s still a lot to learn — especially when it comes to the idea of an ECS deficiency. But although ECS deficiency has yet to be proven, supplementation with high-quality cannabinoids is a generally very safe way to relieve symptoms of ECS dysfunction.

    At Cornbread Hemp, we understand the importance of cannabinoid quality when it comes to promoting optimal ECS function. This is why we offer the highest-quality CBD products — made from the flower only, containing the full spectrum of cannabis compounds including 2 mg of THC, and USDA-certified organic through every step of the process. Shop our CBD collection now.

    About the Author
    Jim Higdon

    A native of Lebanon, Kentucky. He holds degrees from Centre College, Brown University, and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Jim published Cornbread Mafia in 2012, Full author bio here.


    1) Russo E. B. (2004). Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD): can this concept explain therapeutic benefits of cannabis in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and other treatment-resistant conditions?. Neuro endocrinology letters, 25(1-2), 31–39. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15159679/ 

    2) Russo E. B. (2016). 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), 154–165. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2016.0009 

    3) Marusak, H. A. (2022, January 3). The runner's high may result from molecules called cannabinoids, the body's own version of THC and CBD. Wayne State University. https://today.wayne.edu/news/2022/01/03/the-runners-high-may-result-from-molecules-called-cannabinoids-the-bodys-own-version-of-thc-and-cbd-46709 

    4) Fujiwara, T., Katayama, Y., Okamoto, A., & Matsuki, K. (2021). Arachidonic acid–derived lipid mediators control somatic embryogenesis. Journal of Lipid Research, 62(4), 100042. https://www.jlr.org/article/S0022-2275(20)35445-6/fulltext 

    5) Di Francesco, A., Falconi, A., Di Germanio, C., Micioni Di Bonaventura, M. V., Costa, A., Caramuta, S., Del Carlo, M., Compagnone, D., Dainese, E., Cifani, C., Maccarrone, M., & D'Addario, C. (2015). Extravirgin olive oil up-regulates CB₁ tumor suppressor gene in human colon cancer cells and in rat colon via epigenetic mechanisms. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 26(3), 250–258. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2014.10.013 

    6) Gertsch, J., Pertwee, R. G., & Di Marzo, V. (2010). Phytocannabinoids beyond the Cannabis plant - do they exist?. British journal of pharmacology, 160(3), 523–529. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.00745.x

    7) Russo E. B. (2016). 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), 154–165. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2016.0009