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History of Cannabis

Cannabis is a plant that has enjoyed a close relationship with human civilization for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence has found that cannabis has been used in cultures around the world, in places as far reaching as Ancient Egypt and China. Cannabis continued to be utilized around the world for thousands of years until the United States began using it as a political weapon rooted in systemic racism beginning in the early 20th century.

However, in the past few decades, cannabis legalization has begun a resurgence and countries around the world have moved towards legalization of the plant, particularly considering potential health benefits. This has allowed the medical community and scientific institutions to explore the potential benefits that cannabis and its constituents can offer both humans and animals.

What is Hemp and what is Marijuana?

Both hemp and marijuana are cannabis plants. The difference in naming is based on THC content of the plant. In the US, hemp is defined as cannabis plants t hat contain no more than 0.3% THC when dried. Anything over 0.3% THC is considered marijuana. This can be confusing because the 0.3% THC limit is arbitrary and is not derived from any scientific or medical principles. In fact other countries define hemp as having a limit of no more than 1% THC.

While hemp plants are often characterized by their high CBD content, and low THC content, some hemp cultivars are being grown to contain high CBG content, and in the future, other cultivars of hemp may be developed to contain high cannabinoid content that isn’t CBD or CBG, such as CBC.

This brings us to another interesting aspect of cannabis. Most people have only heard of CBD and THC. These two molecules belong to a group of compounds from the cannabis plant called cannabinoids. The cannabis plant has been found to produce over 100 different cannabinoids, although most are produced in very small amounts and not all the cannabinoids are produced by each plant. By selectively breeding certain cultivars, growers can produce new varieties of the plant that yield larger amounts of certain cannabinoids. Such developments will lead to better scientific and medical understanding of the potential benefits of specific cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are not the only molecules the plant produces. There have been over 500 different compounds identified in cannabis, many of which are unique to the plant. In fact the cannabis plant has been called a “pharmacological treasure trove” by legendary cannabis researcher Professor Raphael Mechoulam, the man who discovered the THC molecule.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one cannabinoid, out of the 100+ that have been identified in the cannabis plant. It’s a non – intoxicating cannabinoid, meaning it doesn’t cause a “high” like some other cannabinoids. It also has an excellent safety profile, which has been documented across multiple species, including dogs, cats, and horses. In fact we and our veterinary colleagues have seen CBD be safely used in pigs, ferrets, birds, rabbits, rats, bears, an elephant, a hyena, a river otter, and even an electric eel!

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is a bodily system found in all vertebrate animals (and even some invertebrates!). It’s a system that developed millions of years ago, alongside other better known body systems, like the nervous system, cardiovascular system, and endocrine system, to name a few.

What’s unique about the ECS is that while other body systems have been known and studied for a long time, the ECS was only discovered in the 90’s. This means we know far less about it than we do the other body systems, but nonetheless it is a crucial system involved in the day to day operations and functions of our body. Our current understand ing of the ECS indicates that it is primarily involved in homeostasis, meaning balance of bodily functions. It prevents too much or too little of something, working to keep things just right, in the “goldilocks zone”, if you will.

The ECS is a complicated and intricate system found throughout the body and which interacts with all other body systems. It consists of cannabinoid receptors that interact with cannabinoids, and endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are not produced by the cannabis plant but are in fact produced by our bodies (yes, we produce our own cannabinoids!), and are crucial for normal daily function.

Cannabinoids from the cannabis plant, such as CBD, interact with the body’s ECS and other systems to produce its effects.

The Future

As legalization of cannabis continues to move forward globally, the doors of research have begun opening to scientists and doctors. It’s such an exciting time because a better understanding of the ECS will lead to a better understanding of how our bodies function. Combined with a better understanding of the cannabis plant and its constituents, a global effort is underway to unlock the mysteries of the ECS and the cannabis plant to discover how that knowledge can be put forward to create better outcomes for humans and animals around the world.

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