Have you ever wondered how the chemicals in cannabis make you feel high? After consuming marijuana (via smoking, eating, or drinking), a cannabinoid called THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol) flows through the bloodstream and enters the nervous system, where it comes into contact with our brain. Afterward, the chemical stimulates the reward center, activating the release of dopamine. However, during this process, THC interacts with a particularly important portion of our brains. A major aspect of human biology, the endocannabinoid system contains CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are critical neural pathways that control interaction and integration. Now, have you ever wondered how we discovered this capability in our bodies? Let’s take a closer look and meet the man who discovered the very first endocannabinoid.
A Momentous Occasion
On March 24, 1992, Lumír Hanuš (a Czech analytical chemist) had been working with William Devane (an American pharmacologist) had been working together on a project at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel) with Raphael Mechoulam, who was considered the world’s most renowned expert on cannabinoid studies. In one historic moment, Hanuš isolated and discovered the first endocannabinoid in the human brain. Subsequently, he and his partner Devane appropriately named the chemical anandamide (meaning “joy” or “bliss” in Sanskrit).
According to Hanuš, discovering anandamide propelled medical science one step further towards the future. Due to this discovery, scientists could consider further applications of the cannabis plant in modern medicine. Besides anandamide, Hanuš is also credited with discovering four more endocannabinoids: noladin ether (2-AGE), homo-gamma-linoleoyl ethanolamide, and docosatetraenoyl ethanolamide (DEA).
A Unique Connection to Humans
Through his studies with Devane, Hanuš solely confirmed that the human brain retains a set of cannabinoids that are directly linked to chemical receptors in the nervous system. This network not only plays a major role in our reactions to marijuana but also controls vital functions like memory processing, motor skills, appetite, pain tolerance, nerve protection (neuroprotection), and more. As a result of a single moment in an Israeli college over 26 years ago, scientists can explore multiple avenues in the endocannabinoid system.
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