Can a Shortage of Cannabinoids Cause Illness? Endocannabinoid Deficiency Explained Simply

Can a Shortage of Cannabinoids Cause Illness? Endocannabinoid Deficiency Explained Simply

Imagine uncovering an entirely new world that was always in front of you but that you never knew existed.

Then imagine that its discovery and exploration would lead to potentially helping millions of people to live pain free.

This is what happened when researchers discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

It was an accidental finding while researching the effects of THC, a known cannabinoid, in the early 1990s. What those findings made clear is that there are molecules in our bodies that are similar to the cannabinoids (over a hundred of them) found in cannabis.

So far, experts have identified two endocannabinoids:

  • anandamide (AEA)
  • 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG).

Almost 30 years later, the previously-unknown ECS continues to be studied. It has been shown to be “a complex cell-signaling system” that may play a role in a variety of functions and processes. [1]

These include:

  • sleep
  • mood
  • appetite
  • memory
  • reproduction/fertility
  • and more.


The ECS is made up of three key parts. Taking a closer look at these will help us understand how and why Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) occurs.

Yes, we can be deficient in endocannabinoids. And that can cause big health problems.

The three parts are...

Endocannabinoids: Also known as endogenous cannabinoids (because “endo” in Greek means inner), these are molecules manufactured in your body. They’re like cannabinoids found in cannabis, but these endocannabinoids have an internal origin, instead of an external origin in the cannabis plant.

Endocannabinoid receptors: Found all through your body, these are what endocannabinoids connect to so they can talk to the ECS. That’s how it determines which action to initiate. There are two kinds found in different parts of your body: 
CB1 receptors are mostly situated in the central nervous system.
- CB2 receptors are usually found in the peripheral nervous system, including immune cells. 

Enzymes: Think of these guys as the disposal system. Once the endocannabinoids have performed their job, the enzymes will break them down so they stop working.


Now that we have a better understanding of the ECS, let’s chat about what it means to have a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). As a company providing CBD products to the American market, we are not allowed to make medical claims. So we’ll share the research findings. They’re quite exciting.

Remember that endocannabinoids are naturally produced by your body.

Being deficient of endocannabinoids means that your body is not making enough of these molecules or it is disposing of them too quickly. Both ways, it results in a lack of endocannabinoids in your body and that’s what the deficiency is.

This can be congenital, meaning present from birth, or acquired, due to issues such as disease or injury.

Much of this we know thanks to Dr. Ethan B. Russo who explored the topic in a pivotal research paper published in 2004. He was one of the first clinical researchers to identify a deficiency in endocannabinoids as a potential cause of migraines, fibromyalgia, and IBS.

While early studies sought to potentially treat CECD with THC, it was Dr. Russo who suggested that CBD may prove to be a superior cannabinoid for the job.

CBD, Dr. Russo stated, is better able to bind to ECS receptors. CBD also prevents enzymes from breaking down endocannabinoids better than alternatives such as THC. This ultimately means that as a form of treatment, it would simply do a better job. [2]


As more research emerges, an increasing list of existing and hard-to-treat conditions are being linked to CECD, leading many researchers to indicate that CBD may be a sound way to treat them to varying degrees.

Let’s take a closer look at them now.


Migraines are throbbing and potentially crippling headaches. They’re usually felt on one side of the head and are often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound. [3]

They’re more common than you might think, with 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men experiencing them. [3]

Some folks get them frequently, up to several times a week, while others may go years between episodes.

Building on Dr. Russo’s initial discussion, in 2010 a group of researchers published a study in Experimental Neurology examining migraines, the ECS and CECD. They found that while more studies are needed, “activation of ECS could represent a promising therapeutic tool” for managing associated pain. [4]

This is because endocannabinoids bonding to CB1 receptors in the ECS have been associated with regulating pain signals. [4] A deficiency could begin to explain the severity of migraines. As well, the use of CBD could potentially mitigate that aspect.


Fibromyalgia has been described as a debilitating disorder that affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. It is “a complex disorder in that it is a collection of chronic symptoms with no specific underlying pathology.” [5] That means doctors aren’t sure what causes it.

The two most commonly associated symptoms are fatigue and chronic pain, but they may also include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • sleep problems
  • neurological issues associated with thinking/memory/concentration
  • tingling/numbness in hands and feet
  • disorders of the jaw such as TMJ (temporomandibular joint syndrome)
  • digestive pain (including IBS)
  • and headaches/migraines. [6]

It’s pretty obvious that any relief from this issue would be a big win.

Dr. John McPartland of the University of Vermont built on Dr. Russo’s initial reports with relation to fibromyalgia and its connections to CECD.

McPartland stated that the most prevalent signs that a patient has fibromyalgia are “the presence of tender points, [which] may be a symptom of [endocannabinoid] deficiency.” He concluded that “enhancing [endocannabinoid] function provides a new approach for treating fibromyalgia.” [7]

So, much like with migraines, the potential for CBD to aid in treating this pain-related disorder is quite profound and explains why many researchers are keen to pursue it.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is probably a familiar term for many. It’s a condition that affects the digestive system as you may already know. It manifests itself in symptoms like:

  • bloating
  • stomach cramps
  • constipation
  • diarrhea.

Most people who are diagnosed with IBS will suffer from it for their entire lives. There is no known cure for IBS, but it is currently managed with diet changes and various medications. [8]

In April 2020, a group of researchers published a paper in Frontiers in Neuroscience discussing ways in which the ECS could be manipulated in order to treat IBS. In their study, they made clear links between the ECS and the gastrointestinal system, citing the endocannabinoid system as a regulator and driver of irritable bowel syndrome. [9]

What this means is that CBD, as they stated, has the potential to help folks with IBS. But we need more research, including clinical trials, to find the specifics and exactly how it all works.


Endometriosis is a long-term condition that can affect individuals of any age. It is when “tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.” [10]

This can cause serious pain and affect fertility.

Women with endometriosis have been shown to have lower CB1 and CB2 receptors, indicating that there is something going on with the ECS and as a result it’s causing the CECD.

According to some experts, this could be the reason apoptosis (natural cell death) does not occur with endometrial cells and instead allows their spread to other areas. [11]

Currently, common treatments include pain killers, medical and hormonal therapy, and surgery.

There is, however, a growing group of women treating their endometriosis pain using CBD who report favorable results. [12] Again, further research is necessary.


These are questions that only your doctor can answer for you.

Current studies show that while CBD might help with pain relief in the above conditions, it has not cured them. Further investigation into the ECS is needed to gain more information on this front.

Given the newness of all this research and CBD itself as a treatment, not every doctor will be receptive to a discussion on the topic. The best advice we can offer you is to find a physician who is willing to listen to your concerns and discuss various treatment options.

If you get a dismissive attitude, it may be worthwhile to seek a second opinion. If you find your doctor receptive, you may be looking at relief from symptoms in your future.


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By WriterGary.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease.*

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