Humans and cannabis have a long historical relationship, going back thousands of years. Why has this plant captivated our species over time? The answer lies in our own bodies - in our endocannabinoid system.
Cannabis can create an array of effects on humans, and it all has to do with how the compounds within cannabis interact with our endocannabinoid system.
Cannabinoids and Receptors
Our bodies inherently make their own cannabinoid compounds - endogenous cannabinoids. These made-in-house compounds regulate a whole host of body functions like sleep and wake cycles, cardiovascular function and more through interactions with our cannabinoid receptors. Body systems regulated by this endocannabinoid system include your peripheral and central nervous system, immune system, brain function, and digestion.
Together, cannabinoids and receptors are the what makes up our endocannabinoid system. When humans consume the cannabinoids present in cannabis, they are using the same receptor system our body uses to regulate its functions. This is the reason why cannabis has so much medicinal potential!
However we haven’t known about the endocannabinoid system that long - only since the 1980’s. According to this article in The Scientist, “Researchers describe the endocannabinoid system as the most complicated and most ubiquitous signaling system in our bodies”.
The Entourage Effect
Cannabinoids, terpenes and many other compounds naturally occur in cannabis. When we think about the mechanisms of cannabis, often two cannabinoids - THC and CBD come to mind (we will be exploring these guys and their cannabinoid friends next week!).
We know that cannabinoids interact with our endocannabinoid system to produce effects, but the main idea behind the entourage effect is that it isn’t all about the cannabinoids. Terpenes have medicinal properties of their own as well. And when these hundreds of compounds interact together, they create the beneficial effects of cannabis.
While cannabinoids are important, it's the synergy between the cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds that truly makes cannabis valuable to us as a species. We desperately need more research on this synergistic effect - research which could spawn many pharmaceutical advances.