For most of history, the effects of cannabis on the human body were little understood. Then, in the 1990’s, scientists discovered endocannabinoids, the natural cannabis-like molecules produced by the human body. Scientists began to realize cannabis exerted its effects, in part, by mimicking our endocannabinoids. It appears the main function of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain bodily homeostasis—biological harmony in response to changes in the environment.9 Taxonomic investigation pevealed that the endocannabinoid system is incredibly old, having evolved over 500 million years ago. Moreover, it is present in all vertebrates—mammals, bird, reptiles, amphibians, fish, etc, all produce endocannabinoids!10
Research initially suggested endocannabinoid receptors were only present in the brain and nerves, but scientists later found that the receptors are present throughout the body, including our skin, immune cells, bone, fat tissue, liver, pancreas, skeletal muscle, heart, blood vessels, kidney, and gastrointestinal tract.11 We now know the endocannabinoid system is involved in a wide variety of processes, including pain, memory, mood, appetite, stress, sleep, metabolism, immune function, and reproductive function.12,13 Endocannabinoids are arguably one of the most widespread and versatile signaling molecules known to man.
9. De Laurentiis A, Araujo HA, Rettori V. Role of the endocannabinoid system in the neuroendocrine responses to inflammation. Curr Pharm Des. 2014;20(29):4697-4706.
10. McPartland JM, Matias I, Di Marzo V, Glass M. Evolutionary origins of the endocannabinoid system. Gene. 2006;370:64-74.doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gene.2005.11.004.
11. Mackie K. Cannabinoid receptors: where they are and what they do. J Neuroendocrinol. 2008;20 Suppl 1:10-14. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01671.x.
12. Alger BE. Getting High on the Endocannabinoid System. Cerebrum Dana Forum Brain Sci. 2013;2013.
13. Maccarrone M, Bab I, Bíró T, et al. Endocannabinoid signaling at the periphery: 50 years after THC. Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2015;36(5):277-296.doi:10.1016/j.tips.2015.02.008.