Updated: May 7
There are two primary sources of the cannabinoids that bind with the microscopic cellular receptors that populate the human endocannabinoid system (ECS): the cannabis plant and our own bodies. Cannabinoids produced internally are known as endocannabinoids (or endogenous cannabinoids). Those manufactured by cannabis are categorized as phytocannabinoids and include the infamous delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
2-AG & Anandamide
The two major endocannabinoids are 2-AG and anandamide. Anandamide (also known as N-arachidonoylethanolamine or AEA) was first isolated and identified in 1992 by two independent research teams: The same Israeli researcher who isolated and synthesized THC in the mid-1960s, Raphael Mechoulam, and NIMH researchers William Devane and Lumir Hanus.
Anandamide has been given the name “the bliss molecule” by the popular press due to the role it plays in controlling emotional balance and mood. It also plays an important role in the management of pain, appetite, and the generation of nerve cells. Research indicates that anandamide may also slow the progression of cancer cells.
Levels of both anandamide and 2-AG can be increased via a variety of mechanisms, including regular exercise. 2-AG has been found to be 170 times more abundant in the brain than anandamide. 2-AG is also found in human breast milk and cow’s milk (more evidence of the existence of an ECS in creatures other than humans). Both anandamide and 2-AG are synthesized on demand, when needed by the body, instead of being produced and stored, like some other endogenously produced molecules.
2-AG (also known as 2-arachidonoylglycerol) was discovered in 1994 by Japanese researchers at Teikyo University and explained in more detail by Mechoulam and his student Shimon Ben-Shabat at Hebrew University. It was Mechoulam and Ben-Shabat who first isolated 2-AG from the gut of a dog in 1995 (three years following the discovery of anandamide).
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