A Primer on the Human Endocannabinoid System

understanding endocannabinoid system

What is the Endocannabinoid [en-doh-kuh-nab-uh-noid] system and what does it have to do with medical marijuana? Every human being as well as many invertebrate and non-vertebrate animals has an endocannabinoid system, this system helps regulate, among other things, our appetite, pain receptors, mood as well as our memory. The endocannabinoid system is made of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies, the two most important known as CB1 and CB2 which are predominately in our brains and immune system.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), one of the primary active ingredient in marijuana, is one such cannabinoid that our endocannabinoid system responds to. This is the link between marijuana and its potential use in the medical field. The fact that we now know our bodies naturally create its own cannabinoids and will react to the cannabinoids within marijuana is leading the way to future research on marijuana’s use as a medical treatment for various diseases.

A flood of cannabinoids

When you inhale or consume marijuana your endocannabinoid system becomes overwhelmed by the influx of cannabinoids entering the receptors in the brain as well as the rest of your body. This flood of cannabinoids prevents the body from naturally regulating its own cannabinoid supply. One such example of how consuming cannabinoids is the the loss (or delay) of certain memories while high. Consuming THC can cause a slowdown in response time, as natural cannabinoids may not be able to reach a receptor as quickly with the newly introduced flood of THC in its way. Similarly this is why users of marijuana often find they are frequently forgetting something that has just happened. While you attempt to recover a memory, the natural cannabinoid carrying that message, is being blocked by the THC you’ve introduced into your brain. This means the memory may come to you slower, or could be lost entirely as it attempts to make its way to your receptors.

It is believed that while the endocannabinoid system regulates many bodily functions, many cannabinoid scientists and other experts believe that its purpose may be to regulate homeostasis, which is essentially the healthy state of an organism and the cells within it. Disease is defined as a failure to achieve homeostasis, and so this unlocks the endocannabinoid system as a gateway to medical applications of marijuana. Some of these experts also believe that the reaction humans show when exposed to an excessive amount of cannabinoids to be a type of a biological defense, paving the way for further medical research on marijuana.

Patients around the world have boasted that their use of marijuana has given them a better quality of life and in many cases either suppresses or cures diseases such as Aids, cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other diseases. While research is still being conducted on just how powerful this drug is we are currently uncertain if it will lead to a recognized cure for any diseases. We know that cannabis has been used successfully to increase appetite as well as reduce pain in cancer patients, while many have even reported a reduction in the size of tumors, it is currently too early to tell if this drug will be a cure or simply a therapeutic remedy to the side effects of many man-made drugs currently on the market.


Stephen Bradley is the editor of Cannablog, a website focused on providing access to news and information about medical and recreational cannabis. Stephen is also a former police supervisor-turned marijuana activist, owner of the Weedbiz™ Network and a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).