Marijuana was hailed as a medicinal plant as early as 2737 B.C.E. by Chinese emperor Shen Nung. World spread “quickly” and by 1000 BCE Indians recorded ganja’s medical benefits. Not long after in 500 B.C.E. the ancient Greeks were treating their ills with cannabis. But when did people start getting high for the sake of feeling high? The oldest records we have are from Greece in the year 430 B.C.E. when Herodotus of Halicarnassus described the use of inhaling cannabis smoke at funerals. Muslims in North Africa were packing their hash pipes as early as 1000 C.E. and the Spaniards brought their sinsemilla to the New world no later than 1545 C.E. And that’s not even talking about hemp rope!
Marijuana has an amazing way of interacting with the human body. THC and other cannabinoids cross the BBB (blood brain barrier) and connect with receptors CB1 and CB2 all over the brain. These cannabinoid receptors are the most common type of receptor in the human body as far as we know.
Cannabinoids bind with these receptors (whose endogenous neurotransmitters are anandamide and 2-AG) and cause such a wide array of reactions. Marijuana can be slightly stimulating, mildly depressive, sleep inducing, appetite enhancing, even hallucinogenic. Since phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids synthesized in plants) and endocannabinoids (cannabinoids synthesized in the body) bind to the same receptors and cause similar outcomes, there is much we can learn about the medical (and recreational) use of marijuana by studying the endocannabinoid system.
One interesting example is the non-munchies weight loss pill. Scientists understood that activating CB receptors in certain parts of the brain made pot-heads want to get their snack on. Who hasn’t been there? So what if the munchies receptors were blocked by synthetic inhibitors? Then wouldn’t fat people enjoy a kind of natural appetite suppressant? An anti-munchies? Well, Pharma made the pill and indeed the pounds melted off. But so did the joy. Turns out the endocannabinoid system is one of the systems that are primary in maintaining happiness. These people weren’t just a little less happy, they were severely depressed. And so the drug never hit the market, and heavy happy people are still munching their days away thanks to anandamides or THC, choose your poison.
The function of the endocannabinoid system (ECS for short) is far beyond what scientists have discovered thus far. Although we do not typically consider ganja to be good for the brain, new research is emerging showing that engaging the ECS with phytocannabinoids (aka, smoking, eating, vaporizing or drinking pot) can actually prevent stroke, improve memories and prevent neuro- inflammation.