And Why Cannabis Works in the Body

The endocannabinoid system, with its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and all of the body’s organs, is literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system we begin to see a mechanism that explains how states of consciousness can promote health or disease.

As you learn more about the potential therapeutic effects of cannabis, and its most active constituents, the cannabinoids, one thing will become quickly evident: cannabis has a profound influence on the human body and mind, with therapeutic potential in practically all human disease states.

How can one herb help so many different conditions? How can it provide both palliative and curative actions? How can it be so safe while offering such powerful effects? The search to answer these questions has led scientists to the discovery of a previously unknown physiologic system, a central component of the health and healing of every human and almost every animal: the endogenous cannabinoid system, also known as the endocannabinoid system or ECS.

The endocannabinoid system is a very complex regulatory system, broad in its function, and found within all complex animals, from fish to humans. It regulates such diverse functions as memory, digestion, motor function, immune response and inflammation, appetite, pain, blood pressure, bone growth, and the protection of neural tissues, among others.

The ECS is perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.[1] Cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every level of biological life, from the sub-cellular, to the organism, and perhaps to the community and beyond.

The ECS has three basic components: endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and the cellular machinery (enzymes) that produces and breaks down endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are molecules produced by cells that have activity similar to THC. Both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids (plant-derived cannabinoids) act on cannabinoid receptors, known as CB1 and CB2, found throughout the body. Stimulating the CB receptors leads to a variety of physiologic processes inside the cell.

Simply put, your body is already producing cannabinoid compounds for the purpose of responding to illness and injury, and for promoting health. The ECS performs different functions in various cell, tissues, and organs, but most often it's role is to control excessive activity. For example, if there's too much muscle tension, too much inflammation, too much nerve excitement, too much digestive tract motility, too much secretion of a hormone or neurotransmitter, it's the ECS that sends the signal to decrease or stop that activity.

Some people, especially those with chronic diseases that respond poorly to conventional treatments, have low levels of their body's own cannabinoids. Others have genetic changes that impair the function of the endocannabinoid system.[2] For these reasons, and more, supplementing with compounds from the cannabis plant produces incredible, safe results where other treatments fail.

In 1902 Thomas Edison said, “There were never so many able, active minds at work on the problems of disease as now, and all their discoveries are tending toward the simple truth that you can’t improve on nature.” Cannabinoid research has proven this statement is still valid.