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A Complete Guide to Your Dog’s Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a network of receptors found in the brain and other parts of the body. The ECS is not only a natural element of our dogs' bodies, but it is also a vital part. You may have heard a lot of claims regarding the therapeutic effects of marijuana in general, or the cannabinoids THC and CBD in particular.

Many of these claims are backed up by scientific evidence, and the explanation for the far-reaching effects has to do with the endocannabinoid system's magnitude and scope. 

You might think that with so many seemingly unrelated health conditions, it's all just a bunch of speculation from people who want the drug legalized. 

However, science and medicine back up many of these claims, and the reason for the widespread impact is due to the size and scope of the endocannabinoid system itself.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system is a network of receptors found in the brain and other parts of the body. 

It was first discovered by two Israeli scientists, Raphael Mechoulam and Yechiel Gaoni. 

The endocannabinoid system is a regulatory network that keeps the body balanced and healthy. 

It is made up of receptors that are found throughout the brain, organs, and central nervous system, which respond to endocannabinoid molecules produced by the body, or similar molecules produced by cannabis. 

The ECS regulates many processes, including sleep, pain sensation, and mood, with an imbalance in these areas often being linked to disease or disorder development.

Think about the term "endocannabinoid." The term "cannabinoid" comes from the word "cannabis," and "endo" alludes to how it is created naturally within the body. 

As a result, the term "endocannabinoid" refers to cannabis-like substances found in our dogs' (and our) bodies.

The ECS itself is made up of three parts:

  1. Receptors in the nervous system and throughout the body
  2. Endocannabinoids
  3. Enzymes that help break down endocannabinoids and cannabinoids

There are Endocannabinoid Receptors Throughout the Body 

There are two main receptors, known as CB1 and CB2, which are activated by endocannabinoid molecules produced by the body or similar molecules produced by cannabis. 

We refer to them as ‘cannabinoid receptors’ rather than simply ‘receptors’ because they act on multiple compounds from different sources rather than just one type alone (which would result in greater specificity).

The CB1 cells are associated with the central nervous system and are most concentrated in the brain and spinal cord, while CB2 cells are part of the peripheral nervous system and immune system, making them most often found in internal organs. 

The endocannabinoid system is a network of signaling mechanisms that is designed to keep the body balanced and healthy. 

When the endocannabinoid system is working optimally, the receptors are communicating messages from the brain to the rest of the body efficiently and effectively.  

Endocannabinoid System

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are chemicals that interact with the ECS and are produced by both the human body and natural plants. Endocannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors to 'wake up' your dog's systems. 

The body perceives exogenous cannabinoids, such as those produced by the cannabis plant, as if they were its own native cannabinoids.

2) Exogenous Cannabinoids

THC and CBD are examples of exogenous cannabinoids, which are cannabinoids that are not produced naturally by the human body. They are chemically identical to our naturally generated cannabinoids, but they communicate information through a different mechanism (or different receptors) to have physiological effects.

Feeding exogenous cannabinoids, such as supplemental CBD or CBD oil for dogs, is a way to help support the ECS to restore homeostasis. 

CBD is a non-psychoactive substance, so it is completely safe to feed your dog.


The two principal endocannabinoids (endogenous cannabinoids) found in scientific investigations are anandamide (N-aracidonoylethanolamine or AEA) and 2-AG (2-Arachidonoyl Glycerol). 

Both endocannabinoids are created by the body only when they are required.

The AEA molecule is also called the "bliss" or "joy" molecule. The receptor anandamide allows 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to be utilized therapeutically. It's especially notable since, in 1992, William Devane and his team discovered the first endocannabinoid in a pig brain.

2-AG is abundant in the central nervous system and has also been discovered in human breast milk. The second endocannabinoid was identified when 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) was extracted from the brain of a rat and the intestines of a dog.

Since the discovery of these two endocannabinoids, numerous studies have been conducted to discover not just behavioral differences but also changes within molecules. With the identification of these two major chemicals, the endocannabinoid system was discovered.

The Role of Enzymes in the Endocannabinoid System

Enzymes are the last part of the ECS and they play a vital role in cleaning up. Once an endocannabinoid has been used, enzymes will break it down and process it. 

The main enzymes that play a role in the ECS are:

  1. Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH), which breaks down AEA
  2. Monoacylglycerol Acid Lipase (MGL), which breaks down 2-AG

Remember, the Purpose of the ECS is to Maintain and Restore Balance 

The system maintains balance between all organ systems, as well as regulates cognitive functions like memory and mood.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a master regulator of homeostasis in all organ systems, including the brain and nervous system. 

It maintains balance between all organ systems, as well as regulates cognitive functions like memory and mood.

All Mammals Have an Endocannabinoid System

The ECS is present in all mammals, including humans and our best friends – dogs, cats, birds and other animals.

The ECS is a biological system that helps maintain homeostasis, the body's ability to regulate itself, by interacting with its environment. 

It works in much the same way as it does in humans; the ECS uses cannabinoids to interact with receptors throughout the body and brain.

When the Endocannabinoid System Malfunctions 

Dogs have a special system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that helps regulate their moods, appetite, pain response, and other important aspects of health. The ECS works by producing its own cannabinoids inside the body. 

These cannabinoids bind to receptors in the brain, which helps reduce pain and inflammation while also regulating appetite, sleep cycles, anxiety levels, and more.

When the ECS is not functioning properly, the body will become “out-of-whack,” which can result in health conditions. This is when supplemental CBD for dogs may be useful. 

Dogs with certain medical conditions may benefit from CBD treatment. The following are some of the medical conditions that can benefit from phytocannabinoids, such as CBD: 

  • Cancer
  • Seizures/epilepsy 
  • Pain (including post-surgical pain, joint pain, pain associated with arthritis in dogs and more) 

Symptoms that can be treated with CBD include anxiety and depression (often related to cancer or other diseases), lack of appetite (in some cases), and pain relief for both acute and chronic conditions such as arthritis and back problems. 

Symptoms that CANNOT be managed with CBD include viral infections like parvo or distemper that affect the central nervous system and respiratory infections like kennel cough.

Reducing Effects From Medical Conditions

Scientists have not yet come up with any definitive conclusions about how introducing plant-based cannabinoids like CBD affects the endocannabinoid system in dogs, but there is significant evidence that it can benefit dogs with certain conditions, including pain, inflammation, seizures, and other symptoms.

In fact, many studies conducted on humans have shown that CBD can be a safe and effective treatment for people suffering from epilepsy or cancer. These same effects may also apply to your dog's health once you give them some CBD oil or treats to try out! 

More Research is Necessary

More research is needed to fully understand how CBD works and what medical conditions it covers best.

While it is not yet completely clear how CBD works to alleviate certain medical conditions, it is worth noting that CBD does not have any psychoactive effects like THC does, which means that it is completely safe to use with no side effects.

That said, some studies have shown that CBD can help with pain management and anxiety in dogs. For example, CBD dosage for dogs ranges based on what you are using it for, whether as an anti-anxiety agent for their pets' stomach issues or when they're going through chemotherapy treatments, but be sure to talk to a holistic veterinarian before doing so.

Supporting your dog’s endocannabinoid system is easy with Rocket Animal’s Canine Cush, which is a completely safe, broad-spectrum zero-THC chew. 

Read More:

Cannabinoid receptors target chronic pain in dogs 

The endocannabinoid system as a target for pharmacotherapy 

A brain constituent that binds to a cannabinoid receptor 

Canine gut health and cannabinoid receptors

Two major endocannabinoids 

Phytocannabinoid chemistry

The endocannabinoid system of animals

The endocannabinoid system as an immune system regulator in the gut