“Because of the pervasive social use of cannabis and the involvement of endocannabinoids in a multitude of biological processes, much has been learned about the physiological roles of cannabinoids.”
–H. C. Lu & K. Mackie, Biological Psychiatry
The benefits of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) were largely unknown to scientists and the public alike until medical researchers began to investigate it with the same emphasis they used for long-recognized substances, such as insulin or antibiotics.
However, the rationale to study it makes perfect sense, because our bodies have evolved receptor sites for cannabis-related molecules (called “endocannabinoids”). This means that the “cannabinoid” system in our bodies is a natural part of our physiology; therefore, it stands to reason it has a purpose—or many.
Now that the medical literature has begun to explore the purposes of this natural system in our bodies, it has become evident that cannabinoids stand on the same important stage as our hormones, proteins, and the neurotransmitters that allow us to live, grow, move, function, and even love.
Evolution doesn’t keep something that doesn’t work. Even the discredited appendix, for generations considered a “throwaway” organ, functions as part of the immune system’s development. There are those who say our bodies are perfect, and they may defend that position with religious views, philosophical perspectives, or even vanity; but considering the body’s wisdom in having acquired the means to survive and thrive—and to discard what isn’t needed—it’s really hard to argue with them.
The story of the benefits of THC and cannabinoids is the story of what happens when it or they land in the receptors on the nerves in the brain, all part of our natural design. Receptors and the chemicals that fit into them—like a key-in-lock mechanism—operate by the millions in our bodies every minute. The regulation of your blood sugar, your heart rate, your adaptive breathing to exercise, and countless other operations depend on this “switching on” and “switching off” of processes, all in the background, automatically.
The body’s way to do things is always economical, so one chemical can fill different receptors to accomplish different things. As an example, consider adrenaline, released when we perceive danger. It fill receptors that, respectively, cause our hearts to beat faster to deliver extra oxygen to our muscles in case we have to run away; it dilates our bronchi and bronchioles to accept more oxygen in our breathing; it dilates our pupils so we can see the danger better; it even raises the hair on our skin which, in previous times, made us look bigger and scarier to deter the danger (think of a cat’s reaction to danger).
…scientific studies have pointed to the therapeutic potentials of cannabinoid compounds and have highlighted their ability to stimulate appetite, especially for sweet and palatable food.
– D. Cota, et al., International Journal of Obesit
Our cannabinoid receptors, like the receptors for adrenaline mentioned above, have demonstrated numerous interesting possibilities. One very important one is that it regulates the release of other neurotransmitters, including the ones that fill other receptors. In this way, cannabinoid neurotransmitters regulate hormone secretion like a air traffic control center operating in the background:
The recently discovered cannabinoid receptor system can be regarded a…regulator system, a dysfunctionality of which may explain at least one subtype of endogenous psychoses.
–H.M. Emrich, et al., Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior
Because THC affects the same brain regions that are abnormal with psychiatric conditions, it has been learned that it isn’t so much the effect of the THC itself, but of its ability to regulate perceptual processing that may be abnormal (out of balance) in psychoses. This indicates a protective role for THC and cannabinoids in mood improvement and cognitive function (wellbeing, remedying depression). This is now being applied to the dementia seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
If you’re afraid of that, you’re missing the point. The processing of THC into food is not for the purposes of increasing your appetite. The amounts of THC in the new THC-infused cuisines are for the many benefits of cannabinoids in the body, as explained above, and are not enough to make you eat too much of it. However, it could be said that the regulation of your wellbeing to the positive could make you enjoy it even more—not eat more of it.
It can be seen—and the revelations keep coming, the more we learn—that THC and cannabinoids are not some alien, foreign substances, but are more like the natural things we use in our systems. This sensibility supports the idea that although THC may not be needed, it can be helpful as a supplement in ways that can impact the brain, heart, lungs, and other systems we rely upon to live naturally.
In 1954, Alice B. Toklas published The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. Imbued with many personal anecdotes, it features recipes that contain cannabis, such as her now infamous “Hashish Fudge.”
The science behind the explosion in cannabinoid use, from it health benefits applied to therapeutics to its commercialism…