Cannabis Provides Material Health Benefits By Unlocking the Endocannabinoid System


Cannabis’ acceptance as a strategic medical alternative has come a long way in the 21st century. Eighteen years removed from Canada’s establishment of the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR – 2001)—becoming just the second country to sanction a government-run cannabis medicinal program—research continues to demonstrate that a healthy endocannabinoid system is a vital component of sustained human wellness. We dive into the evidence and reasoning behind this claim.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

First discovered by research scientist L.A. Matsuda in 1990, the endocannabinoid system was found to be a unique system in the body which modulates key neurological functions such as appetite, pain, digestion, memory, and more. Unlike the other 11 major organ systems (i.e. circulatory, respiratory, nervous, etc.), the endocannabinoid system is thought to be the most ubiquitous of them all, residing almost everywhere in the human body. It’s the reason why consuming cannabis yields various psychological and physiological effects: from delivering a mental high to regulating heart rate and intestinal inflammation.

The two most common endocannabinoid receptor types are known as CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are predominantly found in the brain and nervous system, while CB2 receptors is encoded within the CNR2 gene. Although certain cannabinoids will stimulate CB receptors to a greater degree than others, many cannabinoids interact with both. For this reason, consuming the whole cannabis plant—thus extracting something known as the “entourage effect”—generally provides more medicinal value than consuming individual cannabinoids in isolation.

When cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) enter the body, they easily penetrate the blood/brain barrier and trigger chemical “messages” within synaptic areas in the brain. Cannabinoid compounds act as signalers in this equation, while synapses are the gatekeepers. It takes a specific “key” to potentiate the chemical reaction between the two, which cannabis provides.

Subsequent research has shown certain cannabonoids may initiate positive physiological responses outside the brain as well, such as a reduction of condition-specific inflammation and cancer cell atrophy.

Cannabis Unlocks the Endocannabinoid System Unlike All Others

The human body contains very few obsolete systems. Its complex interoperability has evolved throughout 200,000 years of human evolution and Darwinistic impulse. Outside of your appendix, biologists would be hard-pressed to find other bodily systems that are present, yet serve no purpose. By extension, it’s hard to fathom that our endocannabinoid system evolved by accident. It’s quite natural to assume cannabis provides a specific function within the human wellness ecosystem.

Subsequent research has proved this to be true: cannabinoids found within cannabis simply “unlock” the endocannabinoid system in the most efficacious way known to humankind. They do so by attaching to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body, thus spurring receiving neurons and synaptic processes into action.

While a thorough biological explanation is beyond this article’s scope, we can conceptualize the process by understanding that stimulating the EC system is a highly selective process. These reactions will not trigger unless specific compounds initiate biological chain commands. Although billions of neurotransmitter molecules work concurrently to keep our brains functioning, they must be judiciously applied to initiate the appropriate receptor expression.

In similar layman’s terms, it would be ineffective to start a Dodge Ram with the keys of a Ford Explorer. Without the proper compounds exerting influence on precise wellness areas, the whole process falls flat.

Final Thoughts

Is medicinal cannabis right for you? That likely depends of whether your affliction falls within your endocannabinoid system sphere of influence. With the total number of EC receptors thought to outpace all other neuromodulatory receptors combined, cannabis is proving to be a remarkably diverse therapeutic agent.

While clinical data is inconclusive in many cases, that which exists suggests that cannabis can provide relief for various bouts of minor/moderate pain, inflammation, insomnia, anxiety, PTSD, fibromyalgia, nausia and more. Last Year, GW Pharmaceuticals received FDA approval for the use of its lead CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, on patients with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. It marked the first time the FDA granted such approval for any cannabinoid-based drug.

Advancing research is uncovering additional use cases by the month.

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