The Endocannabinoid System

Each year, globally, nearly 13 million people learn they have cancer, and about 8 million will die from this horrible disease. Millions more suffer from chronic pain, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and countless other diseases. These conditions are serious, but what if a solution was viewed as a joke? What if that little solution was marijuana? There are countless stories about people healing their life threatening diseases using cannabis. These stories of healing are linked to a newly discovered body system, the Endocannabinoid system. This new discovery may just hold the secret to keeping us healthy and disease free. Most people think of marijuana as a stoner’s drug, but THC and CBD, chemical compounds found in the drug, may be the key to saving peoples’ lives.

Marijuana is classified as a schedule one drug along with LSD and Heroin, meaning it is part of the “worse drugs” and that the U.S government classifies it as having “no acceptable medical uses.” Marijuana has been a medicine in the United States from 1860-1937. When I asked if Vicente, a recent foreign exchange student, if he knew that weed had once been completely legal and used widely for its medical purposes, he said “This is news to me”, as I’m sure it is for many of you reading this.

Marijuana was used for its medical purposes long before it was used to get one high. The plant was used as a medicine for over 3,000 years, and it has only been illegal for 70 years. In the first ever pharmacopoeia published, marijuana was used in China as far back as 27 B.C for anesthetic purposes. Cannabis went from being the most widely used natural medicine to a forbidden drug. So what led to cannabis being illegal? When I asked Mr. Gongas, an IHS parent, this same question, he said “it’s all about the money. Weed would take the place of other medicines.” In fact, a few factors come into play. The first is the introduction of other medicines and opium derived drugs such as morphine. Also around this time, (1930s) many newspaper owners who were also invested in the lumber industry didn’t want a plant that could be used as an industrial fiber to compete with their means of getting paper. Many articles were also published that played out the psychedelic effects of cannabis. A few years later, in 1937, cannabis was outlawed by congress.

Most of the research in the United States focuses on the harmful effects, while countries around the world are researching the positive side. Dr Raphael Mechoulam of Israel has been studying the medical benefits of the drugs for many years. His research has led to the discovery of a system in our body that combines to cannabis on a molecular level. In 1988, Researcher Allyn Howlett was the first to suggest that the active compound in marijuana binds to compounds on a molecular level that causes a series of reactions to occur. This was confirmed years later by the National Institute of Health.

Shortly after this confirmation, Dr. Mechoulam discovered Anandamide, the bodies own form of THC. Anandamide is a compound found in the human body that activates the same receptors that THC does. These receptors are known as CB (found in the brain) and CB 2(found in the immune system). Although Anandamide is produced in the body and THC comes from the plant, their effects on the body are fundamentally the same. Dr. Mechoulam then discovered another compound, 2-ag that also stimulate these receptors.

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam

The discovery of these two compounds established the existence of the Endocannabinoid system in the human body. The receptor sites CB1 and CB2, along with Anandamide, and 2-ag are part of this new system. Our body has a protective mechanism against foreign proteins such as viruses, the immune system. How come we don’t have a protective mechanism against illnesses such as cancer or schizophrenia? Researchers believe that the Endocannabinoid system could possibly be this protective mechanism. The National Institute of Health in the United States approves grants for Dr. Mechoulam’s research, but the federal government refuses to see the medical benefits in cannabis.

Cannabis oil extract used in the 1930s

If it was discovered that dandelions had a medical benefit to many illnesses and could possibly cure cancer, the news would be heard around the world. Discoveries have been made about the possibility of cannabis to do just that, and no one wants to accept it. Remember that marijuana was used as a medicine for over 3,000 years and has only been illegal for 70 years. Cannabis Indica, the oil extract, as it was originally known was used as a medicine, but Marijuana was introduced to the United States from Mexico as a devil drug. When we see the word “WEED” negative images come to mind, but that is only half the story. You would have to consume 1,500 pounds of cannabis in 15 minutes to overdose. What if marijuana also has the capacity to heal millions of people suffering from life threatening diseases. If it was the matter of a loved ones’ life, would you embrace this notion with open arms, or would your preconceived ideas stop you?