You know your circulatory system keeps your blood moving, and your digestive system deals with the food you eat. But have you ever heard of your endocannabinoid system? The word looks like it has something to do with cannabis, the plant also known as marijuana — and it does. But why does this system exist, and what does it do? Answer: a lot. Whether you partake in pot or you’ve never touched the stuff, without a healthy endocannabinoid system, you’d be in a world of hurt.
The Key to Bliss
You would be forgiven for not knowing much about the endocannabinoid system since it wasn’t considered an “official” system until the late 1990s. Decades earlier, when scientists first shed light on the structure of marijuana’s main active ingredient (tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC), they didn’t even think the human body had special receptors for it. The first cannabinoid receptor, known as CB1, was discovered in 1988. The second, CB2, came in 1993. This got scientists wondering: Why would we be wired with special receptors for a substance that’s only made by one type of plant? Was it possible that our bodies made substances that THC just happened to mimic?
As it turns out, the answer is yes. So far, we know of around 80 endocannabinoids — that is, cannabinoids produced by the body — and 32 cannabinoid receptors that can bind to them. (They also bind to the many, many exocannabinoids made by cannabis and other plants.) If you think of cannabinoid receptors as locks, both endo- and exocannabinoids act as keys. If a particular key fits a particular lock, then the two bind together and magic happens.
These receptors and the substances that bind to them make up the endocannabinoid system, which, in the words of biochemist Dr. Vicenzo Di Marzo, deals with the basic “relax, eat, sleep, forget, and protect” functions in the body. For example, one of the most famous endocannabinoids is anandamide, named after the Sanskrit word for “bliss.” Anandamide can do all sorts of things, depending on how much of it is present in your body.
“When you have changing levels of [anandamide], you have effects in your mood, your metabolism, and your inflammatory response,” says Jennifer Corso, a biochemical physiologist and lead scientist for Darwin Brands, a cutting-edge cannabis company. “If your body produces too much, you can have memory impairment. If you have too little, you can lower your metabolism.”
The pleasure you get from your favorite activities can also come from endocannabinoids. The famous “runner’s high,” for example, involves a flood of endocannabinoids. Same goes for the focused “flow” state you might experience when meditating, painting, or doing any other activity that makes time seem to stand still.
Meanwhile, the most popular exocannabinoids — that is, cannabinoids found outside of the body — are THC and CBD, which are both main constituents of marijuana. “CBD and THC both have potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic, or pain-relieving, properties,” Corso says.
Many other cannabinoids are inactive on their own but become powerful when combined with other compounds. It’s a phenomenon known as the “entourage effect.” In fact, that’s why marijuana is such a potent trigger of the endocannabinoid system: it contains more than 140 exocannabinoids and around 100 terpenes, which are molecules found in plants known to have medicinal qualities. (One example of a terpene is linalool, which is found in more than 200 plants and sought for its calming effects.) Each of these compounds works together to create a greater effect than they would on their own.
Nature, Meet Science
Seeing as there are so many cannabinoids and terpenes present in marijuana that do vastly different things in your body, it’s only natural to wonder if someone could create particular formulas to achieve different effects. That’s exactly what Darwin Brands does.
The company makes vapes, gummies, and edibles from scratch, using scientifically formulated blends designed to achieve whatever effect you’re going for. For example, one of their most popular vapes is Cloud Nine, which includes a mix of terpenes known for their ability to relax, reduce anxiety, and boost mood. Another product known as Engage + THCV contains a proprietary blend of 12 terpenes chosen for their focus- and memory-boosting effects.
Not all cannabis consumers are created equal, which is why Darwin products come in three series. The Origin Series contains the lowest doses of THC and is designed for people who are new to cannabis and want to start small, or for microdosing. The Evolution Series is in the middle, for those who are comfortable with marijuana’s effects. The Voyager Series is the highest potency, “for the connoisseur,” as Darwin founder James George puts it.
But whatever the product, Darwin has a few elements that set it apart from the competition. “All our edibles are made from scratch with premium ingredients,” George says. “All our products, including vapes, are very accurately dosed and formulated for consistency … we’re really coming at it from a progressive, scientific approach, to instill confidence and credibility in this rapidly evolving category. I believe our namesake would be proud.”