Cannabinoids: Regulators of Cells and Society is my ad hoc title for a few pointed references to and quotes from a very interesting and provocative paper by Robert Melamede from the University of Colorado called “Endocannabinoids: Multi-scaled, Global, Homeostatic Regulators of Cells and Society.”
I’m attempting in this post to function as a non-scientist mediator for the rest of us non-scientists. Dr. Melamede’s paper begins by laying the groundwork with a few biological concepts and then gradually shifts its focus toward some inspiring speculation on the possibility of a culturally transformative relationship with cannabinoids, including of course, the cannabis plant.
A repeated theme for me I want to point out here is that although from a biological perspective the endocannabinoid system may do its work in a purely physiological way regardless of one’s intention and practice, I believe the way you use the plant can have a dramatic effect on the benefits derived from your relationship with it. In these posts and in the ‘eventually coming’ book Cannabis and Spirituality, I and the other contributors to the project often refer to the importance of set and setting: “set” meaning basically the sum of what one brings to the engagement with the plant; and “setting” meaning the specific environment of the encounter and the intentions driving that encounter.
I recommend reading Dr. Melamede’s paper even if you are, like me and the great majority, not a biologist or a chemist. You may have to read it a couple of times to absorb the full intent but it’s short and the visionary component is readily accessible. This summary is intended to draw attention to these potentially very important ideas and to collect some of the key points here for quick access and inspiration.
First, a very brief definition/explanation of the endocannabinoid system. “Endo” is short for “endogenous”, which means “originating from within the organism”. The endocannabinoid system “is perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health . . . Cannabinoid receptors are present throughout the body, embedded in cell membranes, and are believed to be more numerous than any other receptor system.”1. In layperson’s terms you might say the human organism is extremely cannabinoid friendly, both endogenous and exogenous [“originating outside the organism”].
It may also be helpful for what follows here to know the meaning of “homeostatic”, or the noun version “homeostasis”, defined in my trusty online dictionary as “the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.”
I think the best way to give you a quick sense of the thrust of Dr. Melamede’s thesis in his short paper is to offer some quotes from the essay in the order they appear. This selection focuses less on the biological concepts and more toward the visionary, “metapolitical” implications in the paper. I like to keep these posts short, so again, to get a full sense of what he’s trying to say, please go to the source.
Follow-up commentary: May 14, 2015. After I published this post I got some very interesting feedback from a biochemist who claimed that some of the science in Dr. Melamede’s post was less than convincing. This gentleman also objected to what he interpreted as an attitude of superiority, as if the implication is that those poorly endowed with endocannabinoids are more primitive and less evolved than those with a greater ‘stash’ of endocannabinoids. I can see that point, though I wouldn’t feel comfortable going so far as to impute motives to Dr. Melamede without communicating directly with him.
A nagging question about that in my mind is perhaps not so much what is the accumulated biochemical influence of a rich supply of endocannabinoids— presumably with the inclusion of supplemental cannabis—but whether or not, for any reason, there is a distinct correlation between those drawn to the use of entheogens, including cannabis, and an open and flexible modus operandi in any particular individual.
In other words, it’s obvious that some people are horrified by any threat to their personal narrative, their status-quo comfort zone, and others are much more comfortable with altered states and intimations of ego dissolution. I would suggest, without chauvinism, that the species and the planet altogether are in great need of more of the latter mindset.
After the biochemist’s critique, I considered removing this post but decided to leave it up with this added commentary on the “caveat lector” (let the reader beware) principle that people can be trusted to make their own decisions and do their own follow-up study.
Critical Homeostatic Regulators
“The endocannabinoid system is a global homeostatic regulator [Melamede, 2005]. The actions of the cannabinoid system transcend the scales of organization ranging from the sub-cellular within an organism to beyond an organism’s boundary where it regulates extra-organismic, yet population dependant, hierarchal dissipative structures such as social, political, economic and religious systems. With such broad, multi-scaled activities, that have evolved over 600 million years, the cannabinoid system may underlie evolutionary advanced phenomena.”
“We now know that endocannabinoids are critical homeostatic regulators of all body systems, and perhaps most importantly, of energy flow in general.”
Regeneration and Adaption
“It is now known that the brain has the capacity to regenerate nerve cells, and that this process is largely controlled by endocannabinoids . . . It is hypothesized that people with an endocannabinoid deficiency in critical areas of the brain will tend to look backwards in time because that view minimizes the need for re-learning. Conversely, a robust endocannabinoid system equips an individual to adjust to the future by controlling the reformulation of old memories and patterns of behavior as new learning dictates.
“Individuals endowed with an above average endocannabinoid system can better adjust to the novelty of a developing situation. They will have a greater tendency to optimistically look into the unknowns of the future because they have the adaptive biochemical machinery.”
“The ability of cannabinoids to reduce age-related illnesses, and also to regulate open mindedness [Hill et al., 2006] emphasizes the importance of having marijuana available for the health and survival of a population.”
“As the cannabinoid activity in the human population increases, what emergent behavior might result? If humans consume essential fatty acids so that they can maximize their endocannabinoid production, and consume appropriate amounts of supplemental marijuana, they should became less depressed [Denson and Earleywine, 2006], more optimistic and forward-looking, less subject to age related illnesses, suffer less pain and become more cooperative. The dissipative structures that are our political, economic, religious and social systems might undergo drastic character changes, perhaps for the betterment of all.”
1. Dustin Sulak, DO, http://norml.org/library/item/introduction-to-the-endocannabinoid-system