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For centuries now, students have always been taught that there are 11 major organ systems in the human body: circulatory, muscular, respiratory, urinary, reproductive, integumentary, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, lymphatic and digestive. In recent years, however, a 12th system has come into the picture, one that has been called the most important physiologic system involved in health maintenance: the endocannabinoid system (ECS).1 

While scientists have known about the ECS for 25 years, the system has, like most anything to do with cannabis, been kept in the dark. First discovered in the 1990s when scientists were trying to understand how THC affected the human body, medical schools are only now starting to teach their students about the endocannabinoid system.

What is the ECS? The endocannabinoid system is a complex and widespread neuromodulatory system that plays an important role in the peripheral and central nervous systems. Comprised of exogenous cannabinoid receptors, endogenous cannabinoids and enzymes that are responsible for the synthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids, the ECS is involved in a wealth of biological processes and promotes homeostasis (a stable internal environment) in the body.2 

Found in abundance throughout the nervous system, CB1 cannabinoid receptors and CB2 receptors have been found to be engaged by some cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, like THC and CBD. When consumed, cannabinoids produce biological effects through intimate interactions with these particular receptors, a process that underlines the importance and significance of the endocannabinoid system.3 

In addition to exogenous cannabinoid receptors, the ECS is also comprised of endogenous agonists, the most understood being anandamide. A highly potent agonist of the CB1 and CB2 receptors, anandamide has been shown to mediate the psychotropic effects of THC and other endocannabinoids. Significant for a number of reasons, anandamide plays a role as a neurotransmitter, a vasodilator agent and a human blood serum metabolite.4 

As cannabis research becomes sound and robust, so too will more discoveries likely be made about the many properties of the endocannabinoid system. Already, medical schools are beginning to adopt the teaching of the ECS in their programs, and the science behind receptors, endogenous cannabinoids, and neurotransmitters like anandamide is starting to galvanize. Like the rest of the cannabis industry, the prospects for the ECS are truly just starting to take shape.

  1. “7 things you probably didn’t know about the endocannabinoid system.” https://medium.com/randy-s-club/7-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-the-endocannabinoid-system-35e264c802bc
  2. “An introduction to the endogenous cannabinoid system.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4789136/
  3. “Endocannabinoids binding to the cannabinoid receptors: what is known and what remains unknown.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4120766/
  4. “Anandamide.” https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Anandamide#section=Top

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