Numerous scientific research from around the world allowed for the discovery of a truly remarkable physiological system: the endocannabinoid system (Mechoulam & Hanus, 2004; Hanus, 2007; Pacher et al., 2006; Gerdeman & Schechter, 2010). It helps maintaining the mechanisms responsible for homeostasis¹ in the body (Backes et al., 2017). Not only is it active in the brain, but across the whole body, and all signs point toward a close relation with our general health and sense of well-being (Gerdeman & Schechter, 2010).
Cannabis affects the body because its bioactive compounds activate various molecular and genetically encoded receptors by binding with them. Cannabinoid receptors are in fact proteins expressed on certain cell membranes. These sensors are named cannabinoid receptors because of their ability to capture cannabinoid-shaped molecules (Gerdeman & Schechter, 2010). The wide variety of tissues and cells that contain these receptors are mainly responsible for the significant diversity of psychological and physiological effects resulting from the use of cannabinoids (Iverson & Snyder, 2000). The positioning of these receptors is a major determinant when observing and describing the effects of a cannabinoid.
The brain and many nervous system tissues boast a very high concentration of receptors called CB1. A second receptor named CB2 has been identified primarily on cell membranes of the immune system, but also on bones and muscles (Gerdeman & Schechter, 2010). These facts lead us to believe that most mental and perceptual effects of cannabis can be attributed to the CB1 receptors (Gerdeman & Schechter, 2010). CB2 receptors, on the other hand, would be responsible for the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties of some cannabinoids as well as the caryophyllene terpene (Gertsch et al. 2008). In sum, it is worth mentioning that we still have many years to go before studies reveal the full potential of these molecules and their various facets.