Timeline: Discovering the Endocannabinoid System

Progression of human knowledge about the multifaceted system that exists within us all.


Without the research conducted on the cannabis sativa plant that lead to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, our understanding of the human body's functions would move into the future underdeveloped; unknowing of this system that produces & interacts with cannabinoids that are also found in the plant.

The Process of Discovering the Endocannabinoid System

The discovery of the endocannabinoid system didn’t happen overnight. It was a series of events beginning in 1964 with the isolation of THC…

1964: Isolating THC

Raphael Mechoulam identified & isolated THC for first time. This soon led to identifying CBD.

1984: Cannabinoid Research & Synthetic Advances

John W. Huffman begins research on cannabinoids which led to synthesizing over 450 of them. However, synthetic cannabinoids were then found to be more dangerous, overdosing on them possible, while natural cannabinoids found in cannabis have yet to be overdosed on.

1988: Finding Cannabinoid Receptors

Allyn Howlett and William Devane discover the first cannabinoid receptor in the brain of a rat, leading to their discovery in the human brain – ultimately named CB1 receptors. It was found that these receptors are more plentiful than any other neurotransmitter in the brain.

1990: Receptor Pinpointed in DNA

Lisa Matsuda announces that she and her colleagues have identified a DNA sequence that defines a THC-sensitive receptor in a rat’s brain to the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine. Soon after, this receptor was successfully cloned allowing them to fashion molecules that activate the receptors. Genetically altered rats were also bred that lacked such a receptor, meaning THC would have no effect on them. Success in these experiments proved that THC works by activating specialized cannabinoid receptors found in both the brain and central nervous system, meaning they must be present in humans for effects to be felt.

1992: First Endocannabinoid Discovered

Raphael Mechoulam and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) researchers William Devane and Dr. Lumir Hanus discover anandamide, a naturally occurring endogenous cannabinoid found in the human body. Such an endocannabinoid was found to attach to the same receptors as THC, thus being named after the Sanskrit word for bliss. Also nicknamed “the bliss receptor,” anandamide plays a role in memory, pain, depression, and appetite.

1993: Second Receptor Pinpointed in DNA

A second THC-sensitive receptor is found in the immune and nervous systems, named the CB2 receptors. They’re predominantly in the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, bones, gut, spleen, reproductive organs, and lymph cells.

1995: Second Endocannabinoid Discovered

Raphael Mechoulam and colleagues again find a new endocannabinoid named 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol) that attaches to both CB1 & CB2 receptors.

Combining Knowledge to Recognize the Entirety of the System

Through progressive research, a collective of individuals and colleagues were able to piece together the existence of the endocannabinoid system by working backwards, discovering first THC, then receptors, then ultimately endocannabinoids made naturally within the human body. With the current limitations placed on cannabis and its continuing label as being a Schedule 1 substance, research remains limited when so much more has yet to be discovered.

In only three decades, humanity has discovered an entirely new system within the human body that regulates nearly all aspects of health, being influenced by a plant known as marijuana when ingested. Without the help of cannabis, we may never have discovered THC-sensitive receptor sites that also respond to CB1 and CB2.

Just like the saying, “never judge a book by its cover,” or the general manner of never judging a person before getting to know them, humanity should have never allowed the “prestigious” to determine cannabis as harmful without researching all the facts first.