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The Endocannabinoid System: Endocannabinoids and Cannabis

Have you ever queried why marijuana affects us the way it does? What is it that makes THC and CBD respond with our bodies, treating and offering relief to the ill? What makes this plant such a distinct medicine, able to treat such a large number of vastly different conditions?

If you had asked this question fifty years ago, there wouldn’t have been an answer for you to get. Unfortunate, the removal methods available in the early 1900s made it difficult to determine which one of the 80+ cannabinoids found in cannabis was the psychoactive cannabinoid responsible for the effects of marijuana.

The truth is, it’s only been in the last couple of decades that specialists have truly even started to learn the ways cannabis works within our bodies.

It all started with scientific discovery in 1964, when a scientist from Israel named Raphael Mechoulam was able to distinguish and isolate THC for the first time – just prior to which they were able to recognise CBD as well.

Staying implemented to isolate these cannabinoids for the first time was the first stepping stone in finding the endocannabinoid system – a biological system that can be found in just about any living thing with vertebrae.

“By using a plant that has been throughout for thousands of years, we learned a new physiological system of immense significance,” says Raphael Mechoulam, the innovator of the transnational cannabinoid analysis community.

In 1988, the original cannabinoid receptor was found in the brain of a rat. Originally found by Allyn Howlett and William Devane these cannabinoid receptors set out to be plentiful in the brain – more so than any other neurotransmitter receptor.

Soon after this process, researchers commenced using a synthetic form of THC (which is truly FDA recommended these days, to treat severe nausea and wasting syndrome) to start drafting the CB receptors in the brain. Not full of a surprise, the receptors were found primarily found in the regions accountable for mental and physiological methods including memory, higher cognition, motor coordination, appetite and emotions among other places.

This would only begin to explain how cannabinoids impair our brains and bodies – already though, it was becoming clear that cannabinoids apparent played a larger part in our physiology than we ever anticipated. After all, why would we have cannabinoid receptors if cannabinoids could only be uttered from external sources?

It wasn’t until two years later in 1990 before the next big finding; when Lisa Matsuda published at the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine that she and her colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health had succeeded to pinpoint the DNA sequence that describes a THC-sensitive receptor in a rat’s brain.

Not long after this reporting they were able to favourably clone that receptor – permitting them to create molecules that “fit” or “activate” the receptors. Specialists were also able to develop genetically modified mice that lacked this particular receptor – meaning THC should have no effect on them.

When THC was assigned to the “knockout mice” as they were called, they affirmed that because the THC had nowhere to bind, there was no way to trigger any psychoactive activity – establishing once and for all that THC works by activating specific cannabinoid receptors in the brain and central nervous system.

Shortly after, in 1993, a second cannabinoid receptor was discovered – as a part of the immune and nervous systems. Denominated CB2 (the CB receptors in the brain formally dubbed CB1 receptors) receptors they are found to be sufficient throughout the gut, spleen, liver, heart kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells and even the generative organs.

Nevertheless, that inquiring, pesky question prevailed unanswered – why do we have cannabinoid receptors in the first place?

The answer to that question started to display in 1992 when the first endocannabinoid was found. Anandamide held the primary, naturally occurring endogenous cannabinoid or endocannabinoid. It was affirmed by Raphael Mechoulam as well as NIMH researchers William Devane and Dr Lumir Hanus.

This is still only one of two known and comparatively well-understood endocannabinoids. It appends to the same CB receptors as THC and it was described after the Sanskrit word for bliss.

A second endocannabinoid was distinguished in 1995, recognised by none other than Mechoulam’s group yet again. This second main endocannabinoid was dubbed 2-arachidonoylglycerol or “2-AG” to keep it simple. This particular endocannabinoid connects to both CB1 and CB2 receptors.

It was these results, working backwards, tracing the metabolic pathways of THC, which allowed specialists to explore an entirely unknown molecular signalling system that resides within us – and within thousands of distinct organic lifeforms, basically everything on our planet with the exception of insects.

Due to the role cannabis contested in learning this system, it was rightfully named the endocannabinoid system. While we knew about the plant first – this cellular process has been happening within us for millions of years. According to Dr John McPartland, the system started emerging as long ago as 600 million years back – when complex life meant a sponge.

There is proof that a possible third CB receptor has still gone unknown, thirteen years after the CB2 receptor was originally discovered.

Since then, we have found out that the endocannabinoid system is responsible for sustaining many of our normal bodily roles – everything from helping to maintain healthy bone density (as found in a study with mice and the previously mentioned “knockout mice”) to naturally preventing diabetes – and that’s only the beginning.

It’s impressive to see how far we’ve come – fifty years ago THC had just been recognised – now, thanks to the discovery of that one cannabinoid we’ve learned an intact molecular system in our bodies that we never knew of.

Actually, the endocannabinoid system is probably the single most important system within our entire bodies – responsible for supporting homeostasis. EssentiallyEssentially, if our endocannabinoid system is out-of-whack, your whole body could be at risk as it is responsible for many of our normal days to day functions.

The possibilities that come with understanding the endocannabinoid system are practically unlimited. This one system helps to improve almost every aspect of our well-being – meaning if we can learn to manipulate these receptors (with use of cannabinoids from cannabis) we could probably have the answer to not only restoring diseases but preventing them altogether.

Is it so hard to imagine that if supplementing unstable naturally occurring endocannabinoids with the cannabinoids from cannabis is able to handle, discharge or control a condition (such as ALS, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s) and even cure cancer – that it might be possible to use the same process to prevent such situations in the first place?

“I now consider the answer is yes. Analysis has shown that small doses of cannabinoids from cannabis can indicate the body to make more endocannabinoids and build more cannabinoid receptors. That is why various first-time cannabis users don’t consider an effect, but by their second or third time practising the herb they have created more cannabinoid receptors and are ready to respond. Numerous receptors enhance a person’s sensitivity to cannabinoids; smaller doses have larger effects, and the individual has an intensified baseline of endocannabinoid activity. I consider that small, consistent doses of cannabis might act as a tonic to our most central physiologic healing system.” – Dustin Sulak, DO (Taken from a blog post from

While there is not much special scientific data to support these claims, it’s only a matter of time. We’re acquiring more and more every year about cannabis and the endocannabinoid system. Just look at how far we’ve come in half a centenary – look at how uniquely cannabis is surveyed by millennials versus how our grandparents viewed it at our age.

“There were never more so many able, sharp minds at work on the problems of disease as now, and all their data are tending toward the simple truth that you can’t improve on nature.” – Thomas Edison, 1902

The situation here is, this is still 100% true today, over 100 years later. There are thousands of intelligent men and women working in pharmaceuticals, working to produce medicines to do exactly what cannabis is already capable of doing. Why do we (humans), always think we have a better way to do things?

Why do we have FDA recommended drugs that mimic THC and are conceivably stronger than generally occurring THC – yet the plant that gave way to that drug is acknowledged a highly dangerous drug with no medical value?

People are commencing to see, though, that sometimes, the best solution is a natural one. One that has been done around and been used for thousands of years to treat conditions of all sorts. With the knowledge of the endocannabinoid system comes the chance to bring the truth about cannabis to light – eventually allowing us to understand how one plant can have such a positive impact on so many different infirmities.

Momentarily that we’ve all got a good comprehension of exactly how the endocannabinoid system was identified through cannabis, it will be easier to understand how the endocannabinoid system works. So be on the look-out for the next instalment – The Chemistry of Cannabinoids and the Human Body – where we will look at how cannabinoids THC and CBD lock-on to the CB receptors, in turn causing the medicinal interests that people have come to trust over more regular medicines.

 Disclaimer: the principles contained here is not designed nor meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is only achieved for educational confidences only. You should recognise full responsibility for the way you decide on to use this information.

Tags: Cannabinoid Science, Endocannabinoid System, Health.

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