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Study Summary: Evolutionary Origins of the Endocannabinoid System

A pioneering 2006 research study entitled "Evolutionary Origins of the Endocannabinoid System" that was published in the journal Gene combined various genetic analysis techniques "to better estimate the functional origins of the endocannabinoid system," also known as the ECS. According to some experts, the ECS began developing in creatures other than humans about 600 million years ago.

The Study

The study employed advanced genetic analysis to search for evidence of the existence of an ECS in "twelve phylogenetically diverse organisms," as follow:

  1. Humans

  2. House mouse (mus musculus)

  3. Puffer fish (takifugu rubripes)

  4. Sea squirt (ciona intestinalis)

  5. Nematode (caenorhabditis elegans)

  6. Fruit fly (drosophila melanogaster)

  7. Yeast (single-celled fungus; saccharomyces cerevisiae)

  8. Small flowering plant from mustard family (arabidopsis thaliana)

  9. Single-celled protozoan parasite (plasmodium falciparum)

  10. Fresh water protozoa (tetrahymena thermophila)

  11. Single-celled archaea (archaeoglobus fulgidus)

  12. Bacteria (mycobacterium tuberculosis; cause of tuberculosis)


The study discovered that the microscopic CB1 cellular receptor type that is most common (most dense) in the brain and central nervous system of humans is also found in "65 mammalian species, four non-mammalian vertebrates, and one invertebrate." In humans, it is the CB1 receptors that bind with the infamous psychoactive cannabinoids from marijuana delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC, HHC, and others.

The researchers also identified ten DNA genes that are responsible for encoding proteins that are directly involved in ECS signalling. The researchers reported that all 12 species examined "expressed one or more sequences that shared similarities with the human endocannabinoid sequences."

The researchers reported that all 12 species examined "shared similarities with the human endocannabinoid [system]."

The most commonly shared ECS receptor types among these species included CB1, CB2 (found most commonly in the organs, tissues, and glands of the immune system in humans), and GPR55.

View the original study.

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