The endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a group of endogenous cannabinoid receptors located in the mammalian brain and throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems, consisting of neuromodulatory lipids and their receptors. Known as "the body’s own cannabinoid system", the ECS is involved in a variety of physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory, and in mediating the psychoactive effects of cannabis.The ECS is also involved in voluntary exercise[3] and may be related to the evolution of the runner's high in human beings and related aspects of motivation or reward for locomotor activity in other animals.

Two primary endocannabinoid receptors have been identified: CB1, first cloned in 1990; and CB2, cloned in 1993. CB1 receptors are found predominantly in the brain and nervous system, as well as in peripheral organs and tissues, and are the main molecular target of the endocannabinoid ligand (binding molecule), Anandamide, as well as its mimetic phytocannabinoid, THC. One other main endocannabinoid is 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) which is active at both cannabinoid receptors, along with its own mimetic phytocannabinoid, CBD. 2-AG and CBD are involved in the regulation of appetite, immune system functions and pain management

In 1964 Israel scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam was able to identify and isolate tetrahydrocannobinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) from the Cannabis plant for the first time. This landmark scientific discovery of being able to isolate these cannabinoids for the first time was the first stepping stone in discovering the endocannabinoid system, a biological system that can be found in just about any living thing with vertebrae.  

There are approximately 500 natural components found within the Cannabis sativa plant, of which up to 100 have been classified as ‘cannabinoids’; chemicals unique to the plant. The cannabinoids are most abundant in the un-fertilised female flower head and this is the part of the plant utilised in the development of medicinal cannabis products.

The most well-known of the cannabinoids is delta-9-tetrahydrocannobinol (THC). It was isolated in 1964 in Israel. This cannabinoid is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis and is the reason cannabis is used recreationally. 

However, it appears that THC may also be responsible for some of the medicinal effects of cannabis such as reduction of nausea, vomiting, pain and muscle spasms as well as improvement in sleep and appetite.

“By using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance,” says Raphael Mechoulam, the dean of the transnational cannabinoid research community. “We wouldn’t have been able to get there if we had not looked at the plant.”

The human body has an endocannabinoid system that makes cannabis-like substances that affect pain, inflammation, and many other processes. It’s perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in maintaining human health. While the cannabinoid system performs different functions in each area of the body, experts believe its main role is to regulate homeostasis, the process that maintains the stability of the body’s internal environment in response to changes in external conditions.