How Does It Work?
Although humans have been using cannabis as medicine for thousands of years, we didn't really know how or why it worked the way it did until the 1980s.
In 1988 Dr. Allyn Howlett and her colleagues at St. Louis University attached radioactive dye to synthetic THC and were able to follow where it went in the brain including which specific receptors it attached to.
Our receptors are like locks on a cell and the cannabinoids are keys that bind to it then start a chemical reaction which changes the message the cell is sending.
We went on to learn that our bodies have and make our own cannabinoids: we call these endogenous cannabinoids. Our body's endocannabinoid system both creates cannabinoids and provides the enzymes that break them down.
Why Do We Have It?
Our endocannabinoid system, the most widespread receptor system in the body, exists to regulate the flow of signals to better maintain balance. This important system regulates pain perception, cardiovascular activities, gastrointestinal activities, hormone regulation, immune function and metabolism control among many others.
Endocannabinoids are made and released when they are triggered by illness, injury or inflammation. It seems the whole system is turned on when you need protection from diseases, disorders, injury or pain.
Because we already have an endocannabinoid system in our body, a plant-made cannabinoid such as THC can easily substitute for a body-made cannabinoid such as Anandamide.
Why These Effects?
When cannabinoids enter our system they connect with receptors. CB1 receptors are located in the brain. They sense and perceive pain, effect memory, learning, emotions, anxiety, depression, fear, appetite, nausea, pleasure and reward. CB2 receptors are located in the areas of the body related to the nervous system, immune system and bone. Areas that express both types of receptors have to do with the heart, liver, skin, gastrointestinal system and reproductive system. Cannabis offers the effects it does because the endocannabinoid system is in charge of those things and the cannabinoids turn it on.
Everyone has their own endocannabinoid system, those with disorders may have differently functioning systems or interpret signals differently. For example, while many people experience cannabis interfering with memory, those with ADD or ADHD report cannabis can actually enhance memory, focus and learning. Just like while it makes some consumers anxious, those with anxiety disorders find cannabis helps.
Methods of Consumption
Whether you ingest or inhale your cannabinoids will deliver slightly different effects. Cannabinoids inhaled through the lungs are immediately sent to the bloodstream, so the effects are felt immediately or within the first 15 minutes. When cannabinoids are eaten, they must be digested before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream, so it takes 30-60 minutes until the effects are felt. When eaten, the cannabinoids are metabolized by the liver and stay in your system a lot longer, so instead of the 90 minute experience offered by smoking, edibles continue to deliver effects for several hours.
While many people use cannabis recreationally to pick up their mood or to shift gears after work, millions also count on it to relieve pain, treat disorders or make it through chemotherapy. Just like those with diabetes need insulin, those suffering with seizures, anxiety, depression, menstrual cramps or Crohn's disease need their weed. Letting citizens manage and modulate their own health is a basic right and our government has never explained WHY cannabis should be the exception.
Study Is Needed
Due to a hundred year ban on studies, there is still much for us to learn about this dynamic plant and how it interacts with our bodies. Although more than half of the U.S. has acknowledged and accommodated cannabis' medical uses, because it remains federally illegal the institutions that would like to further study and understand these compounds and how our body uses them are not allowed.