Short Story: The body produces it’s own cannabinoids that interact with the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids from plants like marijuana, stimulate this system as well. Cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the brain and body explaining the ability of these components to “heal” many symptoms and illnesses.
Long Story: The endocannabinoid system was identified in the late 1980s. More recently it has been discovered that the body produces it’s own cannabinoids that interact with this system. Phytocannabinoids, like those found in marijuana, also stimulate this system which “modulates the flow of neurotransmitters, keeping our nervous system running smoothly” as written by Michael Backes in Cannabis Pharmacy.
There are two kinds of receptors, CB1 in the brain and nervous system, and CB2 receptors in the gut, spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, lymph cells, endocrine glands, blood vessels, and reproductive organs. According to this comprehensive article “The CB1 receptor mediates psychoactivity. CB2 regulates immune response. Marijuana does so much and is such a versatile medicine because it acts everywhere, not just in the brain.” This explanation is the most concise and illuminating when trying to explain the magnitude of symptoms and ailments cannabis can be used for.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is not unique to humans and is found in most plants and animals (yes your cat and dog!).
Endocannabinoids are made in the body, phytocannabinoids are from a plant, and synthetic cannabinoids are made in a laboratory. There are over 100 identified phytocannabinoids in marijuana and that number continues to grow. Phytocannabinoids are not unique to cannabis and you can read about that here. Science has also managed to formulate synthetic cannabinoids. Each of these effects receptors in different ways, but is essentially MIMICKING THE ENDOCANNABINOIDS ALREADY PRESENT IN YOUR BODY. Think of cannabis as a booster, like a vitamin that helps certain deficiencies, cannabis helps deficiencies in endocannabinoid system.
All of that being said, there is also research showing some cannabinoids interact with other parts of the body such as the adrenal system receptors. Read about some of those experiments here. THC and CBD also attack and kill cancer cells. Researcher Dr. Carla Sanchez explains clearly in this video. I have a feeling as time goes on, science will discover all cannabinoids interact with many systems in the body. To get a full picture of how the endocannabinoid system works together with other systems in the human body, such as the P450 cytochrome system, read this article.