We know that our hearts circulate blood, our lungs take in oxygen, our digestive tract extracts nutrients from our food. We also know a bit about hormones and how they affect our different systems.
There’s another, and it’s called the endocannabinoid system. It’s an overall process that maintains homeostasis – equilibrium of the human body. Although there’s lots more to learn about this system and its components – receptors – we know that its primary function is to communicate and regulate levels of different cannabinoids in bodily organs.
The two systems that rely most on cannabinoids are the nervous and immune systems, and the cannabinoids most closely related to each are known as CB1 and CB2, respectively.
So, what happens when the receptors find that a component of the nervous system, say pain reception, needs to be balanced? For example, the ankle breaks and the nervous system is flooded with pain. The receptor then asks the body for its painkiller, dopamine. Sometimes, say in the case of a broken bone, the pain may last for weeks, and the body can’t keep up.
The closest thing in nature to cannabinoids are the phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis – or marijuana – plant. Yes, the endocannabinoid system is named for the cannabis plant. The most active phytocannabinoid is TCH – tetrahydrocannabinoid.
The funny thing is, unlike opiates and other drugs that create a physical dependency, cannabis does not. In fact, cannabis often acts as a nudge to get the body to produce what it needs. That’s why cannabis is considered a stimulant. Not because it stimulates per se (although it can), but because it stimulates the body to produce more of what it needs to maintain homeostasis. What’s more, cannabis can create a physiological dependency, but rarely does it create a physical dependency.
We’re re-learning what generations in every culture throughout the world have known: Cannabis helps the endocannabinoid system when it gets overwhelmed.
Disclaimer: This is my current understanding of the endocannabinoid system today. I learn more every day, so it’ll be interesting to look back on this in a few months.