The discovery of CB1 and other cannabinoid receptors in humans, rats and other mammals, along with the discovery of anandamide and related endocannabinoids, opened up a new field of research, while also providing new legitimacy to research into plant-based sources like cannabis and hemp. In the decades since, researchers have come to recognize that cannabinoids play a vital role in human health.
"These molecules are basically produced to help our bodies create balance" noted Ananda Hemp's John Ryan. "They play vital roles through basically every biological function of our body." While initially the first receptors for anandamide and other endocannabinoids were found in the brain, they've seen been found in almost every system in the human body. "CB1 receptors are found primarily in the nervous system, connective tissue, gonads, glands, and organs," noted Michael Jacobs in an introduction to the endocannabinoid system published in November at Ministry of Hemp, a hemp advocacy and information site.
Another cannabinoid receptor, CB2, is found in the immune system and related parts of the body. "By increasing neurogenesis — the formation of new nerve cells — anandamide exhibits both anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties," reported Deane Alban at Reset.Me in March 2016. "Anandamide, like all neurotransmitters, is fragile and breaks down quickly in the body which is why it doesn't produce a perpetual state of bliss." Endocannabinoids are also believed to play an important role in the formation of memories, and research into their action may help unlock the secrets of Alzheimer's and other diseases that worsen with age.
CB1, CB2 and other cannabinoid receptors are evolved to respond perfectly to anandamide and other endocannabinoids, which seem to help the body maintain balance in many of its systems. But since plant-based cannabinoids fit into the same chemical "keyholes" in the receptors, humans can use them to pick up the slack when our bodies aren't producing enough of the natural equivalent.