Have you ever wondered what causes the human body to react to the psychoactive effects of cannabis? Without a doubt, cannabis can be a potent drug. But there is a specific system that makes our bodies and minds more receptive to the effects of cannabis. This system is called the endogenous cannabinoid system, most commonly referred to as the endocannabinoid system.
Only discovered recently, the endocannabinoid system is perhaps the most important system involved in not only establishing, but also maintaining human health. The system was aptly named with respect to the cannabis plant, which led to the discovery of this system within the human body. Endocannabinoids, as well as their receptors, can be found throughout the body, including in the brain, organs, tissue and immune cells. The key goal of this system, like many other internal systems, is to maintain a stable environment within the body, despite the influences of external environmental factors.
Cannabinoid receptors exist throughout our bodies. Researchers have already identified two of the receptors—CB1, which is mostly present in the nervous system, glands and organs, as well as CB2, which is mainly found within the immune system. Endocannabinoids are substances naturally made within our bodies that stimulate these receptors. But the receptors also respond to the cannabinoids within the cannabis plant.
Plant substances that are able to stimulate the cannabinoid receptors are referred to as phytocannabinoids. Though there are over 100 documented cannabinoids, the most recognized, well known and researched of those cannabinoids include delta-9-tetrahydrolcannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN). Research into the numerous cannabinoids that exist within the cannabis plant have barely begun to scratch the surface of the plant’s medicinal potential. The different strains, comprised of varying cannabinoids, have been suggested as a reason why cannabis-infused substances seem to have the ability to treat a plethora of illnesses.
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The receptors, both CB1 and CB2, contribute differently to the stabilities within our bodies. As the cannabinoids are absorbed within the endocannabinoid system, the body is able to maintain a state of homeostasis. Dominance of CB1 receptors has been linked to increased perception of stress, anxiety, paranoia, as well as decreased pain. CB2 receptors, when predominant in the body, are associated with decreased inflammation and tissue injury, along with improvements to the metabolism and energy balance.
Cannabinoids, whether produced from within the endocannabinoid system or introduced into the body due to cannabis consumption, regulate numerous bodily functions. When the endocannabinoid system is being properly maintained, it aids in the regulation of sleep, appetite and digestion, mood, motor control, immune function, reproduction and fertility, pain, memory and temperature regulation. It is when this system is out of balance that our bodies become more susceptible to illness, or may result in the improper functioning of critical systems. Issues found to be a result of disharmony in the regulation of the endocannabinoid system include fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.
This system was only discovered in the mid-1990s, and there is much research that still needs to be done. While researchers have made little progress in the United States, Israel leads the research on this topic more than any other country. The scientist who discovered the endocannabinoid system, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, was also the doctor who identified THC as the main active ingredient in cannabis.
Some find the sheer existence of the endocannabinoid system to be evidence of cannabis’ potential medical qualities. Our bodies, by design, are built to accept and flourish in the presence of cannabinoids. Despite this, there are still many unknowns about how and why the body functions the way it does in response to the outside introduction of cannabinoids. While our bodies produce their own cannabinoids, there is much left to discover about the cannabis plant and how its numerous cannabinoids impact the body.