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Evolution and the Human Cannabinoid System: Mystery, health and healing

By James Ainsworth

The recent article “Your Body is Teeming with Weed Receptors” in The Scientist about the human cannabinoid system is an excellent introduction to the current state of knowledge and research into this little-known aspect of human physiology that is far more present throughout the body and brain than scientists, researchers and physicians originally suspected.

In fact, after the discovery of cannabinoid system in the late 80s, there has been a gradual development of knowledge and research into how the system works throughout the human body – and also a remaining sense of mystery. Given the cannabinoids association with THC – the active psychotropic ingredient in marijuana – the natural assumption was that its effect and presence was mostly confined to the brain and the central nervous system. However, the more scientists searched, the more they found cannabinoids throughout the body, essentially wherever they looked. Cannabinoids are found in the heart, liver, pancreas, skin, reproductive tract, the stomach and the intestines. And yet this interactive system that is found throughout the body is still very much of a mystery to modern science.

Further compounding the fascination and mystery surrounding the cannabinoid system is discovery of cannabinoids in the long-time human delicacy of truffles – which suggests that cannabinoids are part of a fungi that arrived in nature more than 150 million years ago – and hence are an even older part of evolution than the cannabis plant itself.

Moreover, scientists discovered that cannabinoids are found in all vertebrates. Mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish – are all organisms that have their own endocannabinoid systems. The ubiquitous presence of endocannabinoids throughout the vertebrate branches of the phylogenetic tree seems to indicate that cannabinoids are an essential component of human and animal evolution.

“We are now at a point where you have to understand how [endocannabinoids] can be so relevant in so many areas – literally everywhere in the body,” says Mauro Maccarrone, head of biochemistry and molecular biology at Campus Bio-Medico, at the University of Rome. Maccarrone has been studying the molecules since 1995 and his team also discovered their presence in truffles. “There must be a reason why these endocannabinoids are always there.”

They are kind of a master signaling system, and other signals have learned to talk to these lipids.”

With complex interactions in our nervous system and virtually all of the body’s organs, in some ways the endocannabinoids can be seen as a bridge between the peripheral organs and the brain – and thus between the body and the mind. Researchers are discovering and confirming that imbalances in the endocannabinoids are associated with various states of illness, opening a wide field of inquiry into potential medical applications. Some areas of interest include epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, inflammation, bacterial infections, nausea, diabetes, eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, ADHD, anxiety, depression, opioid withdrawal and more.

What does this mean for laymen and ordinary human beings who may be interested in using CBD oil for pain relief and the treatment of other symptoms of illness? What are the implications of this knowledge and research for those of us who are beginning to explore using CBD oil and other external cannabinoids for specific maladies or as part of our general health and wellness regimens? While the The Scientist article refers to the endocannabinoid system as “the most complicated and most ubiquitous signaling system in our bodies,” how do we apply this knowledge for our own healing?

Like so many aspects of our society in this historic era of shifting paradigms and social transformations, perhaps the answers lie with a synthesis or blending of East and West, of body and mind and right-brain/left-brain models of thinking. While it would be a mistake to describe CBD as a cure-all or a panacea, it clearly has tremendous potential for many different kinds of beneficial applications, based both on research as well as countless personal testaments and anecdotes.

While many people will feel compelled to try some CBD products for pain relief, they may also find treatment and healing for other maladies, not to mention increased energy and an overall improvement in a feeling of health and well-being. Singer and musician Nina Storey discovered that CBD made a big impact on her asthma and yet she also found it valuable for healing inflammation in her vocal chords – which was extremely helpful for her music tours. Perhaps the best approach is for users to understand that the systemic impacts of CBD are hard to predict, but it is helpful to be patient, mindful and reflective of how one’s body may be changing with time and sustained use. Beyond the intended result of pain relief, some questions to consider might be: How is CBD affecting the quality and patterns of my sleep? How is CBD affecting my appetite and digestion? How is CBD affecting my energy level and metabolism? Are my stress, depression and/or anxiety levels decreasing? How does CBD affect my pain perception, body temperature and inflammation? How can I tweak my desired health outcomes by changes in my diet, exercise, water intake or other lifestyle changes?

As with so many other aspects of our society and global civilization, we are standing on the threshold of change and transformation. With more access to information, knowledge and healing than at any other time in human history, we find ourselves also reevaluating our personal lifestyle and health choices both as individuals as well as a society. The discovery and unfolding knowledge of the cannabinoid system is a gift of science and evolution in this era that may have far reaching impacts. As individuals, it is a wonderful blessing to explore the potential of CBD through the medium of one’s personal experience of the body and mind, and health and healing.


James Ainsworth