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A New Era in Health and Wellness

Isn’t it truly astonishing that both the cannabis plant and our bodies make cannabinoids? The ones the body makes are called endocannabinoids. They act as messengers by latching onto receptors within the endocannabinoid system or ECS, for short. How cannabinoids work in the ECS have a lot to do with optimizing human health. Endocannabinoids have the capacity to manage human health on their own, but the cannabis plant can help! Because the cannabis plant also makes cannabinoids that do what endocannabinoids do, the ECS essentially provides cannabis with a direct route to the inner workings of the human body. By engaging with receptors distributed throughout the ECS, phytocannabinoids from cannabis can influence an awe-inspiring amount of physiological processes, ranging from pain perception and immune response to mood regulation, appetite, and so much more. Today, we set the stage with an overview and historic discovery of a bodily system that has been integral to human health for millennia: the ECS.

The Endocannabinoid System and Its Receptors

a comparison between CB1 and CB2The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) keeps our bodies in balance, or homeostasis. It consists of two main types of receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and central nervous system. THC, the most well-known and misunderstood cannabinoid, binds to CB1 receptors and to produce the "high" commonly associated with cannabis use. However, THC binding to CB1 also triggers various beneficial effects, such as pain relief and muscle relaxation.

CB2 receptors are mostly located in peripheral organs and immune cells. THC binding at CB2 helps reduce inflammation and ease chronic pain. While both receptors handle important body functions, their interactions with THC have varying effects. Here's the rub, the primary receptors aren't the only stars of the ECS show. The ECS is a large, interactive, and complex system with many other receptors that cannabinoids can selectively bind to, including many receptors pharmaceutical companies have been targeting for years.

Cannabinoids have a wide range of effects on the body, and it's not an exaggeration to say they are incredibly valuable. The cannabis plant is "polypharmacological," meaning its cannabinoids act on various parts of our body in different ways, offering a wide range of health benefits.

Let’s Review

Cannabis is an excellent example of a plant with many active bioactive compounds. Unfortunately, only two, THC and CBD, are well-known to the general public. Cannabinoids multitask by interacting with a broad range of biological targets in the body. This type of versatility is good for patients dealing with chronic conditions. For instance, a typical pain patient might also suffer from inflammation, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Cannabinoids can engage various receptors and pathways to alleviate all these symptoms at once. Despite such significant potential, cannabis remains an under-appreciated health and wellness option. The main reason? People often misunderstand THC.

Cannabis provides medical science an opportunity to rethink our approach to treating chronic illness. Instead of relying solely on single pharmacological agents, which often require a different pill for every syndrome, individuals may find value in exploring cannabis. This approach could potentially reduce the number of medications needed, simplify treatment plans, and enhance overall quality of life. Cannabinoid therapies have advantages that extend beyond just THC and CBD. Once this is understood, a wider conversation emerges about how cannabis can be utilized in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, conventional medicine (naturally, under a provider's supervision).

Single-Bullet Pills vs. Polypharmacological Cannabis

green pills falling out of a bottleSingle target medicines, often hailed as "silver bullets," do an amazing job when it comes to acute care and emergencies. They activate only one specific pathway or receptor with precision, bringing quick and decisive relief. However, when it comes to chronic illnesses, these single-target medicines can cause more harm than good. Why? Because they often disrupt the body's natural balance, leading to unintended side effects that are sometimes worse than the condition we are trying to treat.

Enter cannabinoids! These versatile compounds can engage with multiple pathways and receptors simultaneously, offering a more balanced and efficient therapeutic effect. For chronic illnesses, where traditional pharmaceuticals might fall short, or for preventative health measures, cannabinoids shine.They provide a holistic approach that works with the body's systems rather than disrupting them.

With the guidance of cannabis medicine specialists and integrated into a primary care plan, the potential benefits of cannabis become not just a possibility, but a life-changing reality. Yet, integrating cannabis into mainstream medical practice requires addressing misconceptions. One of the biggest hurdles is understanding the science behind how cannabis interacts with our bodies. This is where the study of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) becomes invaluable.

The Role of the ECS in Therapeutic Applications

As a 20-year veteran of the healthcare industry, I marvel at the biochemical complexity of the human body. Enzymes drive metabolism, electrical signals are translated into chemicals that facilitate communication between neurotransmitters and brain cells. Hormones regulate processes like growth and mood. These examples provide only a brief glimpse into the complexity of the human body, because it is estimated that trillions of biochemical reactions transpire within our cells over a 24-hour period.

The ECS is part of the complex network of biological interactions, found in nearly every organ, cell, and gland in the human body. The involvement of the ECS in almost every essential bodily function underscores the therapeutic potential of cannabis for keeping the body's internal environment stable and balanced. The ECS helps regulate various functions like mood, appetite, and sleep, ensuring everything runs smoothly. When you feel balanced and healthy, it's often because your ECS is doing its job to maintain biochemical homeostasis. The crucial role of the ECS in maintaining internal balance naturally leads to questions about its discovery and how such an integral system was overlooked for so long.

It All Started With THC

image of Raphael MechoulamIn 1964, Raphael Mechoulam, the founder of cannabinoid and endocannabinoid research, and his team of Israeli researchers, isolated THC from Lebanese hash given to him by the Israeli Police. Wanting to definitively prove THC as the intoxicant in cannabis, he baked the isolate into a cake and invited ten friends to his apartment who had never tried cannabis.

He split them into two groups, and gave one group the THC-infused cake. The control group ate cake without THC.

The reactions were varied: some felt like they were in another world and just wanted to chill, while others didn’t feel much—despite their non-stop chatting. One person couldn’t stop laughing, and another felt quite anxious and emotional. Beyond confirming THC as the psychotropic compound in cannabis, these varied responses additionally proved that THC affects everyone differently.

The isolation and identification of THC in an Israeli researcher's apartment in 1964 was the spark that, albeit, many years later turned out to be the birth of cannabinoid research. It laid the groundwork for our current understanding of the ECS and its profound impact on human health. Yet, the ECS was not to be identified until almost 30 years after Mechoulam’s THC breakthrough, as there were quite a few barriers to change.

Barriers to Change

Why did it take almost 30 more years between isolating THC and discovering the ECS? Well, there were social barriers to change, like stigma, strict drug policies, negative public perceptions and lack of scientific funding for cannabis-related compounds. Just as importantly, researchers back then didn't have the advanced technology and tools we have today. The equipment and methods available at the time weren't good enough to reveal the complex nature of the ECS and cannabinoid interactions. Thankfully, the Israeli team persevered, because from Mechoulam’s initial work on THC arose the comprehensive understanding of the ECS that we have today. It all began with a pivotal inquiry many years after THC was elucidated.

The Pivotal Inquiry

The knowledge we have of the modern ECS started with this pivotal inquiry in the late 1980’s: why do THC-friendly receptors exist in the human brain, anyway? Typically, if the brain has receptors for external molecules, it means the body can produce its own version of those molecules. This question sparked the experiment that led to the identification of the first endocannabinoid, anandamide, in the human brain. By this time, advancements in scientific tools allowed researchers to illuminate brain cells (neurons) within their neural circuits to observe their functions in greater detail. These advanced tools revealed the extensive reach of endocannabinoid receptors, not just in the brain but all over the body — clearly showing the many different receptors endocannabinoids could activate.

These tools illuminated, quite literally, and comprehensively how cannabinoids interact in the body. The next crucial step was to determine the reasons behind these interactions. I believe the discovery of the ECS, a bodily system that has accompanied us through human evolution, is a revolutionary one heralds in a new era of health and wellness, due to the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids.


The journey began with the isolation of THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and his pioneering team in the 1960s. This monumental breakthrough ignited a blaze of scientific curiosity, eventually leading to the groundbreaking discovery of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in the early 1990s. Astonishingly, scientists unearthed that the human body produces its own cannabinoids, dubbed endocannabinoids, which bind to specialized receptors—CB1 and CB2. As technology advanced, the complexity of the ECS revealed itself, showcasing a network deeply involved in numerous bodily functions. This paradigm shift in our understanding of human biology unveiled the vast therapeutic potential of cannabinoids, reshaping perspectives on health and wellness. However, realizing this potential hinges on expanding education and raising awareness. In the next three articles, we are going to learn how to biohack our way to better health with cannabinoids and the ECS. This is a great opportunity to unravel how cannabinoids can revolutionize your health and wellness journey. Be sure to follow along.


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