Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System


In the past

Cannabis seeds have been around for 25 million years and cannabis has been used for thousands of years therapeutically in recorded history. Now we are starting down a path of scientific understanding of how it effects health, wellness, cancer, dementia, and other ailments.

Discovery and Research

The discovery of THC has been widely attributed to Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam in 1964 but there is also information to support the idea that American organic chemist Roger Adams discovered it in 1940.

In 1988 American researcher Allyn Howlett and her graduate student William Devane discovered the first cannabinoid receptors in the brain and named it Cannabinoid 1 receptors (CB1).

In 1992 researchers in Isreal found an endogenous cannabinoid and called it N-arahidonoyl ethanolamine or anandamide.

In 1993 scientists found cannabinoid receptors in the immune system (CB2), and subsequently discovered a second endocannabinoid called 2-arachidonoyl glycerol.

So far there have been five endocannabinoids discovered with the first two, anandamide and 2-AG appearing to have the most importance.  Scientists have realized that CB1 receptors are found mostly in the spinal cord, brain and peripheral nervous system.  This very reason explains the role of cannabinoids in pain modulation, memory processing and motor control. CB2 receptors are located mainly in immune cells such as the spleen and tonsils.

The human body has more receptors for cannabinoids than for any other substance.  The human body makes its own versions of the cannabinoids found in cannabis plants called "endocannabinoids".  

Endocannabinoids help regulate almost all brain and body processes, pain perception, appetite control, tempature regulation, regeneration, healing, inflammation, multiple other functions and is also found in breast milk. 

The side effect profile

Cannabis has an amazing side effect profile.  No one has ever died directly from a lethal dose of cannabis.  The lethal dose is so huge that it can not be administered or consumed in one single setting in a human being.

The safeness of cannabis comes from the fact that receptors are scarce on the brain stem where the cardiac and respiratory system resides.

For example, narcotic analgesics like Vicodin and Percocet have opioid receptors in abundance in the brain stem.  If you were to take to much of these or similar drugs your cardiac and respiratory system function goes down leading to respiratory arrest or death.

Medicinal Use

The endocannabinoid system is one of the most interesting systems found in the human body.  As more is learned about the endocannabinoid system a greater interest in its therapeutic value will emerge.  The many side effects of opiate based medicines have become too burdensome for many people.  It is likely in the coming years that pharmaceutical companies will exploit the many medical applications that cannabinoids can be prescribed for.

Several decades of research has led to a better understanding how cannabinoids help regulate homeostasis.  Scientists are harnessing the therapeutic effects of its main mind altering ingredient THC and are finding useful constituents such as CBD or Cannabidiol. 

Some of the things CB receptors help with:

CB1 receptors help with anxiety, stress, increasing euphoria and feelings of happiness, decrease in convulsions and tremors and coping with chronic pain.

CB2 receptors help by decreasing cancer cells, boosting immune system and coping with alzheimer's disease.

CB receptors are also found on our skin, this explains why topical cannabis applications if properly prepared can have a profound effect on the human body.

There are about 60 cannabinoids and up to 400 compounds in cannabis that have multiple actions with many still unexplained. This makes cannabis a versatile therapeutic tool.

Cannabis targets the spirit, mind and body.  An example would be chronic pain, muscles are tense, nerve is inflamed, might be depressed or anxious from pain. Cannabis targets all of those facets in different ways.  First it relaxes the muscles, calms anxiety, elevates mood, diverts attention from pain and directly targets pain receptors.  It breaks the pain cycle so you can rest at ease.

Cannabinoid receptors have been found in central nucleus of the amygdala which processes painful and traumatic memories and helps extinguish some of these memories so we can move on.

If you are taking opiates or NSAIDs, the right strain of cannabis will reduce the need for them as much or completely.

Addictive potential

The addictive potential of cannabis is minimal, after longterm heavy daily use of cannabis only 10 percent of people become addicted.  The withdrawal after years of of heavy use is based on a short duration of irritability and insomnia.  Which is mild when compared to opiates and similar pain drugs.