Medical marijuana treats so many human illnesses so well due to its stimulation of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Why is this so?
Because the present day medical therapeutic application is based on the evolution of the endocannabinoid system and the psychology of our species.
Together, there is nothing more natural than medical marijuana and how it works in the human body. Let me explain.
To fully understand how this plant-based medicine works, it’s important to understand the original purpose of the ECS within the deep history of evolution and human survival over the last 250,000 years!
The validity of the medical use of marijuana rests on its proven ability to activate the homeostatic healing effects of the endocannabinoid system, as proven by the owners of the only medical marijuana patent holder in existence — the U.S. government, which refuses to share this miracle plant with the rest of humanity while people are dying!
In my last post, “Worth Repeating: The Marijuana Exercise Prescription,” I described how the “runner’s high” was produced through the endocannabinoid system and how marijuana could be used to jumpstart a new exercise program for beginners and/or used by experienced athletes to enhance the psychology of exercise motivation.
Supporting evidence for this claim:
“Intense exercise increases circulating endocannabinoid and BDNF levels in humans-Possible implications for reward and depression” (Psychoneuroendocrinology, October 2011)
“Effects of exercise stress on the endocannabinoid system in humans under field conditions” (European Journal of Applied Physiology, November 2011)
It has now been theorized that the “runner’s high” produced by the aerobic exercise-anandamide-CB1 receptor pathway evolved in humans to balance and reward a long-distance, persistent style of hunting and running wounded animals to exhaustion.
In addition to scouting and tracking game and herds, running barefoot through the bush following a blood trail to find dinner would cause many orthopedic injuries, falls, cuts and bruises that the ECS modulated through reducing pain and inflammation. This aerobic pathway would also be activated by the tribal nomadic existence of following herd movement.
The ECS’s original function and purpose was to produce a “euphoric consciousness” which helped early humans evolve as hunter-gatherer running machines!
Performing aerobic exercise through which a euphoric transient mood state is induced creates a feedback loop, reinforcing the individual’s drive to recreate that experience due to its high level of pleasure. This is similar to the orgasm which drives and reinforces sex; experiencing the intense pleasure of both are the number one and two human drives (or modules) which motivate human behaviors.
The “high” humans receive from medical marijuana is completely based on this natural state of consciousness, which is our original, ancient, optimal state of being.
The overwhelming scientific data gathered over the last 20 years supports how medical marijuana acts through the endocannabinoid system. Science now shows how the endocannabinoid neurotransmitter anandamide and CB1 and CB2 receptors evolved in early humans and played this vital role in running and hunting strategies for animal protein and group survival.
While living in the wild as nomadic bands, finding high-protein food is job number one; it makes every cell, hormone and neurotransmitter, and rebuilds our bodies to keep up with the wear and tear of life of rough living the wilderness.
It was the increase in animal protein that helped increase brain size in early humans, which in turn increased our cerebral cortex, allowing us to live in complex social settings, make sophisticated tools, and develop abstract thinking. No endocannabinoid system activation … no human species. It was that important!
“Meat Eating Behind Evolutionary Success of Humankind, Global Population Spread, Study Suggests” (Science Daily, April 20, 2012)
How else did the endocannabinoid system help humans survive? For female runners who also hunted, “plasma anandamide occurs at ovulation and positively correlates with peak estradiol and gonadotrophin levels, suggesting that these may be involved in the regulation of AEA levels,” leading to more pregnancies.
And for newborn infants, anandamide is also important in the regulation of feeding behavior, and the neural generation of motivation and pleasure. In addition, anandamide injected directly into the forebrain reward-related brain structure nucleus accumbens enhances the pleasurable sensation of suckling.
Euphoria/pleasure makes infants want to eat, and human breast milk contains anandamide, which stimulates infant feeding.
The field of evolutionary psychology describes the architecture of the brain as being made up of modules, which are domain-specific information processing centers that developed in humans to solve a specific problem of survival. In light of this new understanding, the time has come to upgrade the status of the endocannabinoid system to that of the endocannabinoid module (ECM).
Anandamide’s effects can be either central (in the brain), or peripheral (in other parts of the body). These distinct effects are mediated primarily by CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system, and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the periphery. The latter are mainly involved in functions of the immune system; remember, many diseases are inflammation-based, which marijuana and CB2 receptors modulate through the immune system.
Because of this new paradigm, a new, expanded evolutionary perspective of the ECS is now emerging that classifies its function as perhaps the most important of all brain modules, in that it is an evolutionary adaption that helped humans to maintain body integrity and homeostasis.
The proven anandamide-CB1 receptor pathway that exists in all humans can be exploited by medical marijuana by activating the same cellular pathway functions within multiple body systems that control functions vital to life in the same way.
This distinct, standalone evolutionary psychology module that reinforced and rewarded aerobic exercise with a good mood state, reduced pain and inflammation and accelerated growth of bone mass, helped hunters sleep and recover, produced increased sexual desire to produce offspring, and reduced aggression within the tribe.
By extension, today’s modern medical marijuana platform uses this time-proven endocannabinoid module’s natural pathway to restore our health to that enjoyed by our early ancestors.
Humans started from a good place as cooperators within small groups.
“The human species did not evolve in modern cities or even in villages. An estimated 99 percent of the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens took place in an environment resembling today’s African savannah. Throughout this period of over 2 million years, our ancestors lived in small nomadic groups of hunter-gatherers. It was only 10,000 years ago that some of them started to become sedentary and to practice agriculture.”
Through natural selection, hunters with DNA that produced more anandamide, the cannabinoid neurotransmitter responsible for the bliss state, were better runners who caught more food and had more offspring, and the gene that produced more anandamide spread and became dominant in all humans because it worked! It solved a human global problem of survival.
When you run every day, the euphoria becomes your normal state of consciousness. It’s natural to feel this way, and the full activation of this system is normal for humans!
A good argument can be made that euphoria is the optimal set point as a model for optimal health, and any divergence from this set point is a step away from health and toward disease that has been the model for human existence. Medical marijuana helps restore this lost state of health using the same pathway.
To deny people this universal healing medicine is to ignore the evolution of the human species.
“The Evolution of the Runner’s High” The New York Times, April 25, 2012
“Revealing the paradox of drug reward in human evolution” Addiction April 2002
“Thus, the human propensity to seek out and consume plant neurotoxins is a paradox with far-reaching implications for current drug-reward theory. We sketch some potential resolutions of the paradox, including the possibility that humans may have evolved to counter-exploit plant neurotoxins.”
“Psychotropic substance-seeking: evolutionary pathology or adaptation?” Addiction April 2002
Humans have shared a co-evolutionary relationship with psychotropic plant substances that is millions of years old. We argue that this “deep time” relationship is self-evident both in the extant chemical-ecological adaptations that have evolved in mammals to metabolize psychotropic plant substances and in the structure of plant defensive chemicals that have evolved to mimic the structure, and interfere with the function, of mammalian neurotransmitters.
Given this evidence, we question how emotional mechanisms easily triggered by plant toxins can have evolved. Our argument is also supported with archeological and historical evidence of substance use in antiquity suggesting that, for people in the past, psychotropic plant substances were as much a mundane everyday item as they are for many people today.
Our second and more speculative objective is to suggest provisional hypotheses of human substance-using phenomena that can incorporate the evolutionary implications of a deep time relationship between psychotropic substances and people.
Hypotheses of selective benefits of substance use, including the idea that neurotransmitter-analog plant chemicals were exploited as substitutes for costly, nutritionally constrained endogenous neurotransmitters.
Thus, the implications of our argument are not that the mismatch concept does not apply to human substance-using phenomena, but that it must be reconsidered and extended to incorporate the implications of a substance-rich, rather than substance-free, evolutionary past.
“New Way to Boost Potency of Natural Pain Relief Chemical in Body” Science Daily November 2011
“Endocannabinoids and food intake: newborn suckling and appetite regulation in adulthood” Exp Biol Med, April 2005
“In conclusion, the exciting progress in the understanding of how the endocannabinoid CB receptor systems influence appetite and body weight is stimulating the development of therapeutic orexigenic and anorectic agents. Furthermore, the role of cannabinoid CB1 receptor activation for milk suckling in newborns may open new doors toward understanding nonorganic failure-to-thrive in infants, who display growth failure without known organic cause.”
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Editor’s note: Ron Marczyk is a retired high school health eduation teacher who taught Wellness and Disease Prevention, Drug and Sex Ed, and AIDS education to teens aged 13-17.
He also taught a high school International Baccalaureate psychology course. He taught in a New York City public school as a Drug Prevention Specialist.
He is a Registered Nurse with six years of ER/Critical Care experience in NYC hospitals, earned an M.S. in cardiac rehabilitation and exercise physiology, and worked as a New York City police officer for two years.
Currently he is focused on how evolutionary psychology explains human behavior.
To see all of Ron Marczyk’s “Worth Repeating” articles for Toke Signals, click here.