The relationship between cannabis and the brain is a meaty subject. Identifying the various ways cannabis affects the brain is complicated, and we’ve only just begun to unravel many of the mysteries. Most perplexingly, there’s a lot of seemingly contradictory evidence out there.
On the one hand, we’re inundated with messages that cannabis impairs a user’s cognitive function — particularly short-term memory. On the other hand, we hear cannabis can act as a neuroprotectant, perhaps even preventing the onset of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
How can this be? Cannabis is a diverse, complex plant comprised of hundreds of chemicals. And, two of its most prominent constituents — THC and CBD — affect us in significantly different ways. But, first, let’s start with an explanation of the endocannabinoid system, or ECS.
What is the Endocannabinoid System and Why is It Important?
The ECS, also known as “the body’s own cannabinoid system,” is a group of cannabinoid receptors located in the brain and throughout the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS). It plays a vital role in the regulation of mood, memory, physiology, pain sensation, appetite, and overall health. While the ECS performs numerous tasks, its primary goal is homeostasis, or the maintenance of a stable and healthy internal environment.
The discovery of the endocannabinoid system and associated receptors has played a significant role not just in our understanding of cannabis, but of human biology, health, and disease.