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How Does Cannabis Do What It Does? Start with the Endocannabinoid System

So, let’s start with an assumption. If you’re reading this post, you probably know how cannabis makes you feel: That delightful euphoric light-headedness, the way stress, and anxiety seem to melt into a puddle on the floor. (Come to think of it, maybe right now’s a good time for a little smoke break….)

But all that aside, have you ever stopped to wonder how cannabis does what it does? It’s actually one of the most fascinating aspects of this powerful plant medicine, and what’s more, until about 25 years ago, nobody knew how it worked! So get yourself ready for a little introduction to the Endocannabinoid System, the essential link between the cannabis plant and our bodies.

endocannabinoid system

The Endocannabinoid System: Roots of An Important Regulatory Network

We humans have known and loved the cannabis plant for thousands of years, but until very recently, the way it works with the body has been a complete mystery. That changed in the 1960s when an Israeli researcher named Dr. Raphael Mechoulam first isolated the cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) from cannabis. Technically, because they’re created by plants, these compounds are called “phytocannabinoids” (you’ll want to keep that in mind as the story unfolds).

Dr. Mechoulam had identified the two major “active ingredients” in cannabis, but he didn’t yet know how they interacted with the body. It wasn’t until 1990 when an NIMH researcher named Lisa Matsuda identified a cannabinoid receptor in the brains of lab rats.

From there, it was a short leap to the discovery of endocannabinoids, or cannabinoids produced by our own bodies. These natural compounds bind to a network of specialized receptor cells throughout the body. What’s the network called? You guessed it: The Endocannabinoid System.

endocannabinoid system

Since then, our understanding of the Endocannabinoid System has grown by leaps and bounds, so much so that many researchers now believe it’s the body’s single most important regulatory and signaling network. And needless to say, we have one person—er, make that one plant—to thank for it! As Dr. Mechoulam himself put it:

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

The Endocannabinoid System Explained: How Cannabis Communicated with the Body

You probably noticed how similar the words “cannabis” and “endocannabinoid” are. That’s no accident. Remember the “phytocannabinoids” we mentioned earlier, the ones like THC and CBD? When they enter our bodies, they function exactly like the endocannabinoids our own bodies produce. Binding to specialized receptor cells located throughout the Endocannabinoid System, it’s as if they “speak the body’s language.”

endocannabinoid system

That’s why cannabis is so effective at reducing pain, taming anxiety, and enacting all the other unique and memorable effects it has on the body. Instead of acting as a crude “On/Off” switch the way many pharmaceuticals do, cannabis tends to have a more gentle modulating action, working with the body rather than on it.

We hope you’ve learned a little bit about this miraculous all-natural medicine today. If you’re ready to enjoy something special, make sure to check out our Sherman Oaks dispensary menu to see what’s in stock.

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