To stimulate these receptors, our body produces molecules called endocannabinoids, which have a structural similarity to molecules in the cannabis plant. The first endocannabinoid discovered was named anandamide after the Sanskrit word ananda, which means happiness. We all have tiny cannabis-like molecules floating in our brains. The cannabis plant, which humans have been consuming for about 5,000 years, essentially has its effect by sequestering this ancient cellular machinery.
These receptors are found throughout the body. Endocannabinoids bind to them to indicate that the ECS should act. Endocannabinoids can bind to any of the receptors. The effects that occur depend on the location of the receptor and the endocannabinoid to which it binds.
As hydrophobic molecules, endocannabinoids cannot travel unaided long distances in the aqueous medium surrounding the cells from which they are released and therefore act locally on nearby target cells. Endocannabinoids are found in human and animal tissue and generally exert effects on the nervous and immune systems. Research shows that the effect of cannabinoids could be modulated by aromatic compounds produced by the cannabis plant, called terpenes. Marijuana, derived from the plant Cannabis sativa, is found in different forms, the most common being a smokable form called cannabis.
For example, strains that are used as fiber (commonly called hemp) are grown so that they have a low content of psychoactive substances such as THC. All of these compounds are members of a family of signaling lipids called N-acylethanolamines, which also includes non-cannabimimetic palmitoylethanolamide and oleoylethanolamide, which have anti-inflammatory and anorectic effects, respectively. Natural chemicals produced by the body that interact within the EC system are called cannabinoids and, like THC, they interact with receptors to regulate these important body functions. Not only did they identify the active ingredient in marijuana, but they also discovered where and how it works in the brain through a new system called the endocannabinoid (EC) system.