You are most likely familiar with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), you may even know about Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCa); these are three of the most common cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. But, did you know that there are over 70 cannabinoids that have been identified in the cannabis plant? All of these plant-derived cannabinoids are called “phytocannabinoids;” phyto means 'from a plant.' There could be even more than seventy, but only time and more research will tell.
In addition to the phytocannabinoids, there are five endocannabinoids that have been found within the human body; the prefix endo means 'from within.' All endocannabinoids, anandamide, 2-arachidonylglycerol (2-AG), N-arachidonyl dopamine (NADA), noladin ether, and virodhamine, act as neuromodulators, which means they change how the brain processes other chemicals, such as amino acids. Presumably, these same endocannabinoids should be present in all creatures with an endocannabinoid system, nearly all animals on earth. The endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system are the reason why phytocannabinoids have the effects that they do on people and animals, without it cannabis would just be another weed. This system is separated into two main types of receptor sites, CB1 and CB2 receptors, but in 2007, orphan receptor GPR55 was discovered to be a third receptor in the endocannabinoid system.
The CB1 receptor is what both Anandamide and THC interact with to produce feelings of euphoria, the psychoactive high that draws most users to cannabis. CB1 is responsible for more than just psychoactivity but its mechanisms of operation are not fully understood, due to the Federal government's block on scientific research of cannabis. CB1 is found in higher concentrations in the central nervous system, in the brain and other core body systems. CB2 receptors are found all over the body, in small amounts in the central nervous system but primarily in the peripheral regions of the body (arms, legs, etc). Phytocannabinoids, like CBD, have been shown to interact with numerous sites outside of the endocannabinoid system, such as the HT1a and TrpV1 receptor sites. Currently, the only endocannabinoid known to interact with sites outside of the endocannabinoid system is NADA, which has "capsicin-like" effects on the TrpV1 receptor.
The endocannabinoid system exists to maintain homeostasis, to keep our body in balance. If your temperature is too high it will cool you off, if you are too stressed it will help relax you, and so on. This system, and it's proper regulation, is crucial to physical and mental health. If it works right, a person feels a fear response that is appropriate to a situation, if there is a problem, then that fear response can go into overdrive and manifest into PTSD or a phobia. Endocannabinoid deficiencies can lead to more than anxiety and PTSD, it can lead to migraines, fibromyalgia, IBS, and numerous other conditions; “clinical endocannabinoid deficiency” is so serious it now is a recognized medical condition.
The way to combat clinical endocannabinoid deficiency, and the diseases it can lead to, is by boosting the body's level of cannabinoids, either by stimulating more production from within or by taking in external phytocannabinoids as a nutritional supplement, just like taking vitamin D3 for depression. Given that the science on ways to increase endocannabinoid production is quite limited and our understanding of this body system still in its infancy, it is generally easier to supplement with phytocannabinoids. Whether it is through smoking, vaporizing, eating, topical use, sublingual use, or any other imaginable type of use, ingesting cannabis is the primary method available to people suffering from clinical endocannabinoid deficiency.