Most people are aware that consuming cannabis can produce a psychoactive or mind-altering effect, and that THC is the culprit. THC is one of many compounds produced by cannabis, known as cannabinoids. Upon discovery in the 60’s, cannabinoids were first thought to be unique to the cannabis plant. Over the last few decades we have come to understand that humans and cannabinoids are intrinsically connected. We internally produce endocannabinoids, that are part of a complex cell- signaling system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The purpose of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis within our bodies. We produce endocannabinoids, as needed, to keep our internal functions in balance. Endocannabinoids bind to receptors, located all over the body, activating an ECS response to things like stress or pain.
There are two main types of endocannabinoid receptors in the body that endocannabinoids and cannabinoids bind to. CB1 receptors are found primarily in the central nervous system, which includes nerves in the brain and spinal cord, and affects memory, cognition, coordination, movement, appetite, emotion, and immune cells. CB2 receptors, are located mostly in the peripheral nervous system, which includes all the nerves that branch out from the brain and spinal cord and extend to our muscles and organs, and affect our renal system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, reproductive system, digestive system, connective tissue, bone, skin, and eyes.
Cannabis plants produce over 100 different cannabinoids, also referred to as phytocannabinoids, that are able to bind to are CB1 and CB2 receptors and affect our internal balance. Currently, only a handful of these cannabinoids are well-known and well-studied.