In the time humans have been on the planet, this species has been able to introduce incredible innovations and the complexity of those advancements continues to scale at an increasingly faster pace. The reality is, however, human evolution pales in comparison to the metamorphoses of the natural world. In short, humanity still has a very long way to go to catch up to its earthly relatives.
One of the most complex aspects of anatomy, communication is a part of life for every living organism. This communication between cells is vital to existence. How does the stomach know to tell the brain when its full, or hungry? How does the hand know to rise and catch an incoming ball? These complex processes involve chemicals and millions of cells that form the body’s communication superhighway, the nervous system, part of which – the endocannabinoid system – is designed to work in conjunction with cannabinoids.
There are a number of ways the body communicates by producing signals. Generally, the nervous system’s cells, or neurons, communicate by sending chemicals to one another. This process is made possible when the nerve cell sending the signal releases compounds called neurotransmitters into the open space between two cells, known as the synaptic cleft. When the neuron being sent the signal receives those chemicals, the type of neurotransmitter helps it decide what to do next.
While the neurotransmitter released can vary based on the type, size and location of the nerve being signaled, in the case of endogenous cannabinoids a neurotransmitter is released by one nerve cell sending a signal to the receiving neuron. The process starts with cell depolarizing, which opens channels that allow calcium to rush into the cell. In turn, this rush instigates the engine of the cell and results in the production of the neurochemical anandamide, the primary endogenous cannabinoid.
The anandamide binds to the receptors on other cells, working like a key to unlock the CB1 receptor, a vital cannabinoid receptor. When cannabis is consumed, THC and other cannabinoids have the ability to bind to these receptors, which results in greater activation of CB1 receptors. With this increased activity, the human body has the capacity to activate these receptors, but the addition of cannabinoids through cannabis consumption results in therapeutic levels of receptor activation. The effects produced vary by individual, based namely on how the person’s CB1 receptors are spread through cells in the body.