Recently CannaReps Workshops held a seminar dedicated to the endocannabinoid system due to the high demand from our participants. We were graced with a very special visit from Professor Nick Inglis, a biology professor and Phd at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He collaborated with our experts and workshop leader to provide a highly informative seminar on the inner workings and many misconceptions of the endocannabinoid system in the human body. This topic is all the rage within the cannabis community, and so it should be! Such a fascinating and intricate system oftentimes leaves us with more questions and curiosities the deeper we go!

This post outlines the 4 biggest misconceptions regarding the endocannabinoid system that are frequently perpetuated within the media or online. Number 3 is especially interesting!

Misconception #1
“The endocannabinoid system evolved in the human body due to the long standing use of cannabis by humans”.

The endocannabinoid system was discovered by retracing the metabolic pathway of cannabinoids. Hence the name: the endocannabinoid system. It’s not, however, because these particles specifically to interact with cannabinoids like THC and CBD. Cannabis and humans did not evolve symbiotically!

Likewise, “endogenous cannabinoids” are not actually cannabinoids made by the body, but rather, are endogenous particles that were discovered by studying the way cannabinoids are assimilated by the body.

Similarities in molecular structure do exist between some cannabinoids and these particles produced within the human body; Anandamide and AG2 are the two primary endocannabinoids, with anandamide shaped similarly to THC and AG2 sharing some similarities with CBD.

Misconception #2
“THC binds to CB1 receptor sites and CBD binds to CB2 receptor sites”

CBD does not have a great affinity to either CB1 or CB2 receptor sites. It binds primarily with secondary receptor sites like GABA receptor sites and countless others. Though THC does bind primarily to CB1 receptor sites, generally speaking, THC and CBD have a lower affinity to receptor binding than their endogenous particles. Anandamide binds almost exclusively to CB1 receptor sites and AG2 binding to both CB1 and CB2 sites. In fact, the majority of the binding occurs through the interaction of cannabinoids with these endogenous particles.

THC increases the potential for anandamide to bind to CB1 sites, and CBD increases the potential for AG2 to bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors while also “hitching a ride” with other particles in order to bind to secondary sites.

So you see, it is not as easy as thinking of endocannabinoids as keys that fit into a particular lock. The process is often explained like this for the sake of simplicity, but in reality, the process is actually much more complicated.

Misconception #3
“Cannabinoids are only found in the cannabis plant.”

Hops (used primarily used as a flavoring and stability agent in beer) and several other relatives of the cannabis plant contain cannabinoids that interact with the endocannabinoid system. It is even theorized that these types of particles may exist in many different types of distant relatives as well as other plant lineages that may not yet be thoroughly studied.

Misconception #4
“CB1 receptors are in the brain and CB2 receptors are found in the body and white blood cells”.

CB1 receptors are found anywhere that neurons are found, as they tend to be in the area directly adjacent to the synaptic cleft. In recent years we have found neurons and CB1 receptors all throughout the body. Some aspects of the thinking process occur in the gut and in some major organs. Meaning all of those sites will also have some CB1 receptors. There is no doubt that the greatest concentration of CB1 receptors is in the brain, but it is incorrect to say that they are only located in the brain.

Likewise, CB2 receptors are found in the highest concentrations specifically in the peripheral nervous system, on gland cells (a specific type of white blood cell) and in major organs like the liver and the heart. Many of these same organs also contain CB1 receptor sites. Thus, it is clear that the mainstream depiction of the endocannabinoid system is overly simplified. The reality is much more complicated than originally thought. We must always keep that in mind.

In Conclusion

The study and field of the endocannabinoid system is quickly and constantly changing with new studies and publications coming forward on a regular basis. CannaReps works to connect our students directly with the world of academic research, and aims to guide students in methods of interpreting publications. Deciphering the jargon and pulling apart the arguments made in publications of this nature is a heavy task and ideally should be left to the pros.

It is great for budtenders to draw inspiration from this research and to inspire others through what they know – but it is crucial to stay grounded and not overextend our current state of understanding on this topic. We are still in the early stages of understanding the subtle complexities of the subject. It is key to not say too much as information is evolving at such a fast pace, the public may have difficulty keeping up! Bare in mind that discussing these topics in depth with customer should not necessarily be the main focus of any budtender, as the subject requires a great deal of specialization and consistent upkeep with scientific publications and complex literature.

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