While modern medicine may claim to have most of the answers to the illnesses that plague mankind, scientific research into cannabis over the past 50 years or so has proven that there’s plenty we still do not understand – if we’ve even heard of it at all.
This is the case with the endocannabinoid system, an incredible network that has a remarkable influence over our physical and mental wellbeing. Yet this system was completely unheard of by researchers and biologists until the 1990s, when cannabinoid receptors and anandamide (the first endocannabinoid) were identified. Cannabinoid receptors have since been located throughout in the body, including in the brain, skin, gut, central nervous system and peripheral nervous system.
The discovery of anandamide by legendary cannabis expert Raphael Mechoulam essentially showed us that there are chemicals produced by the body that have some similarities with cannabinoids (aka phytocannabinoids), a rare type of compounds mostly found in cannabis. Both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids are compatible with the endocannabinoid system. Therefore, the medicinal properties of cannabis now make much more sense – the plant is so helpful for a myriad of conditions because there’s a system that is essentially designed for cannabis.
Recent research has looked to uncover the long relationship that humans have had with cannabis and how it’s possible that we have evolved with the plant – the endocannabinoid system, which is present in many life forms, is first thought to have appeared about 600 million years ago.
Responsibilities of the endocannabinoid system
But just what roles does the endocannabinoid system (ECS) have to fulfil? Above all else, the ECS is tasked with keeping the body in equilibrium, or homeostasis. It manages this by regulating all the other mental and physical functions, which are as follows:
- Immune system response
- Sleep patterns
- Pain sensation
- Reproductive cycles
- And much, much more
Many conditions are caused by excessive inflammation – even depression and other mental health disorders have been linked to brain inflammation. That the ECS can regulate immune system response therefore is an intriguing find.
Not all inflammation is bad – in fact, it’s a natural reaction that the body takes when it needs to defend from an external threat.