Twenty 4:20 | #1 The Endocannabinoid System

Welcome to the first segment of our new series of 20-minute educational podcasts featuring Curt Robbins, author of more than 500 articles on all aspects of cannabis. Ready to learn something new?

In this segment we explore the endocannabinoid system, which governs bodily functions including sleep, pain, appetite and mood. Get to know your endocannabinoid system!


Welcome to Twenty 4:20, the bite-sized educational podcast from Tom at Kannaboomers and Curt Robbins, author of more than 500 articles about the science of hemp and cannabis. We’re giving 20 cannabis topics 20 minutes each to help you get smarter about terpenes, cannabinoids, cultivars and much, much more. And our show starts now.

Kannaboomers: (00:29) Hey it’s Tom with the Kannaboomers podcast. I’m here with our very special guest, Curt Robbins. Hey Curt.

Curt Robbins: (00:34) Hey, how are you, Tom?

Kannaboomers: (00:35) Doing great. And I’m so glad to bring this to our audience. We had this brainstorm for a series. We were going to call Twenty 4:20 sort of borrowing from ESPN’s 30 for 30 if you will, but there’s so much to learn about cannabis. And Curt, also known as Gooey Rabinski, has written more than 500 articles on the topic, has encyclopedic knowledge of all aspects of it. So we thought it just made really good sense to do 20 20-minute sound sound bites on various aspects of cannabis. And we’re going to start today with a little primer on the endocannabinoid system.

Curt Robbins: (01:06) You know, often I hear from patients or consumers, is “cannabis good? Is cannabis bad.” And sometimes we hear horror stories, uh, maybe contorted urban legends, but people do have negative responses to certain cultivars, certain varieties of cannabis. And it gets more complicated because in a low dose you might get one efficacy, on an a higher dose, you can have actually a polar opposite efficacy. So I just kind of want to, you know, set the framework there for understanding that, uh, this is subjective. Efficacy is a real challenge for medical professionals and for patients and consumers. You know, if one of your friends says, “Hey, I have some really great cannabis, you want to come over Saturday night and check it out?” it might be great for them. They might really enjoy the experience and again, someone else can get a panic attack or, you know, just not have the pleasant experience that they’re seeking.

So it’s really kind of deep science. It turns out that all vertebrates, not just mammals, and certainly not just humans, have this thing called an endocannabinoid system. And the reason it’s important is because it regulates all these different bodily functions, mood, cognition, sleep, appetite. And it gets into these core foundational body systems. So we have this endocannabinoid system also known as the ECS. It’s a bunch of cellular receptors, microscopic cellular receptors throughout the body. They’re concentrated in two primary areas, the brain and central nervous system. And there’s a particular type of receptor that we’ve called CB 1 and then the immune system, which is throughout the entire body. It’s the tissues and glands of the immune system. And that goes from head to toe. And that is primarily a different type of receptor called CB 2 and we get into the science of this. Certain cannabinoids and terpenes found in plants like cannabis have different binding affinity for the different types of receptors. And where it gets a little tricky is we found that different humans have different numbers of receptors in their bodies. So yeah, Gosh, uh, two people, they consume the same amount of cannabis in whatever form. One person, it’s extremely potent for them. And another person feels very little. That might be due to the fact that they have different densities of receptors in their bodies. So if you have half as many receptors as I do, you could theoretically feel less efficacy.

Kannaboomers: (03:46) Excuse me. There’s also the fact that we endogenously produce cannabinoids, right?

Curt Robbins: (03:51) Exactly.

Kannaboomers: (03:52) There’s cannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.

Curt Robbins: (03:54) Well, let’s talk about the cannabinoids for a second. So we have this system called the ECS that can receive these cannabinoids, but there are two categories of them. There’s phyto-cannabinoids produced by plants outside of our bodies, and then there’s endocannabinoids and those are produced by our bodies. There’s a lot of stuff going on here, right? We can’t just say there’s two endocannabinoids, but the research to date has shown two primary ones that we know about this. The science is still, you know, we need a lot more research, but it’s called anandamide and another one is 2 AG.

Now anandamide has gotten the nickname the bliss molecule, because research has shown that it plugs into the ECS and the ECS can control mood and other bodily functions. Sleep. Another thing which is important for all, you know, for good mood and good cognition and everything. So these core functions, well, it turns out molecules like cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, these phytocannabinoids plug to the ECS and they’re basically memetic molecules, meaning that they’re in a way almost impersonating. They’re getting into the party by saying there’s somebody on the list, but it just so happens that THC and CBD and well there’s 113 cannabinoids that we know of today. There’s about 200 of these terpenes on the terpenes are responsible for the aroma of cannabis, but we used to think that was it and we’ve learned that they have medical efficacy that’s just as great as the cannabinoids. So we’ve got all these outside molecules and they plug right into the receptors throughout the brain, central nervous system and immune system.

Kannaboomers: (05:41) Now obviously that’s a tremendous number of combinations. I mean, if we did the math, you have 113 cannabinoids, and so there’s a lot of variability in this plant. You know, what you’re describing is sort of a neurotransmitter network that I think it gets to balance to, right, a homeostasis?

Curt Robbins: (06:00) Yeah, that’s an important term. Homeostasis is balance in the endocannabinoid system. So basically the a good convenient mental model for the average consumer is like if you take vitamin C or vitamin E or vitamin B, you’re supplementing your body, right? We call those supplements. Well, if you consume phytocannabinoids from the plant like hemp or cannabis, you’re supplementing your ECS. And that brings up a theory of endocannabinoid deficiency where because of lack of exercise, poor diet with processed food, lots of stress — I live here in LA, traffic will give you lots of stress, right? We all have stressful lives and all these factors may be maybe genetic tendencies. Most of us in modern life, again, the theory goes, have a deficiency in our endocannabinoid system. Consuming phytocannabinoids, THC, CBD, and all these great aromatic terpenes, in theory, supplements the endocannabinoid system, brings it up, brings balance. And now we have homeostasis. And so homeostasis is a state of health and wellness the way we’re supposed to be.

Kannaboomers: (07:09) So that gets to supplementation and bringing yourself back into balance, uh, with this plant product.

Curt Robbins: (07:15) Exactly. And you know, it’s not just about cannabis. I’m, I’m not a life coach, but uh, it’s also diet. You know, the quality of your sleep. If you’re under so much stress, your you suffer insomnia, then you know your health is going to go downhill just from that one cause alone. But uh, exercise exercise generates anandamide and again anandamide, has efficacy very similar to THC, so it can improve mood, it can lower anxiety and there’s all these other physical benefits warding off to see if you have a stronger immune system, you’re less likely to get sick. So a lot of this is also preventative, not waiting until we have that traumatic disease to start consuming cannabis oil or CBD oil to, to deal with it, but also considering things from that preventive perspective. If we’re in homeostasis, we’re theoretically the least likely to incur those diseases in the first place.

Kannaboomers: (08:14) Right? It gets to wellness. And this can be a component in the wellness program for anybody who, as you say, sleep is such a fundamental component maybe an indica could help to get better sleep and you wake up the next day more ready to work out.

Curt Robbins: (08:27) Right. As you said earlier, this gets really complicated and in the past that there were about 6,000 known cultivars or what is more commonly called a strain. Technically a strain is like a virus, so it’s not the best label, but it’s common and people can relate to it. Well, recently for Cannabis Aficionado Magazine, I wrote an article about a company in Humboldt County, Humboldt Seed Company, and they did something last year. An expensive large, long-term project in which they call it a phenom mega hunt. They were looking for the best cultivars, the best varieties of cannabis. Now ’best’ is subjective. That was, you know, determined by sometimes CBD content and medical efficacy. There was a very much a medical focus on it, but they started out, this is kind of mindblowing, with 40,000 cultivars. They worked with local nurseries in the Emerald Triangle and started out with 40,000 then they narrowed it down to the best 50 and again, that’s, that’s just based on their criteria. But it was a, it was a massive project. The mind-blowing part of this is they started out with 40,000 varieties. So, yeah, it’s very ignorant and primitive to say cannabis is good or cannabis is bad. If I do that strong, what we call indica, it takes me down, lowers my energy, helps people get over insomnia it acts. Uh, those varieties act as a sedative, but we call these things indica and sativa, sativa being the one that energizes and gives you cognitive, uh, creativity and energy. But what’s really going on there is those 113 terpenes and that’s just what we know about, and are 113 cannabinoids, rather other 200 terpenes. Yeah. Think about the mixes that we can get 40,000 cultivars and we’re producing more every day. So if you have a bad experience on cannabis, it might just be the type that you had. You know, maybe you didn’t like that Toyota Corolla and you need to get a Chevy.

Kannaboomers: (10:34) Right? There’s so much that we’re learning. If you’re a student of this, you know that, uh, in Israeli scientist, Raphael Mechoulam, if I’m not mangling his name, he did a lot of work on THC from the sixties through the seventies. And I think some point around the 80s, they discovered the endocannabinoid system. And since then, there’s not as much science being done as there should be, but we are rapidly accelerating our knowledge. Is that a fair statement?

Curt Robbins: (11:00) Yeah. And you know, we have a dearth of research here in the United States because most academic research is tied to federal dollars and cannabis is still Schedule 1. So it’s considered as dangerous as heroin. In fact, cocaine is Schedule 2, uh, legally a doctor can prescribe cocaine because it’s considered by the government, less dangerous than cannabis. Kind of interesting.

Kannaboomers: (11:25) Yeah, that seems so wrong.

Curt Robbins: (11:27) A lot of this credible research is being done in Israel. There’s terpene research going on in China, the UK. So yeah, these uh, prohibitionist policies that we have here in the States unfortunately mean that some of the best research is coming from outside the US. Canada is doing a great deal, especially with their federal legalization that went into effect last October. Um, I think we’re going to see a lot more research out of Canada.

Kannaboomers: (11:52) And meanwhile there are medical, legitimate medical uses of the plant that are kind of underground in a lot of states. I mean I think we’re legal in 32 states are so for medicinal purposes we’re really just scratching the surface of, of the applications of the plant.

Curt Robbins: (12:08) Yeah. Sometimes anecdotal stories, they’re not double-blind, placebo-controlled gold-standard academic research. Right. But they can be very educational and enlightening. There are parents of children with epilepsy. One rare form is Dravet Syndrome that I’ve written about before where they have hundreds of seizures per week or per month and they consume like a CBD oil or a tincture and their seizures go down to a two or three a month. Now think your child is very sick and having hundreds of seizures and every time they have on those seizures are kind of wipes out their memory. It puts them back to a blank slate. All the progress they’ve made neurologically as growing humans is, is just wiped out. You know it’s really a horrific condition. If you can get these phytocannabinoids and terpenes and they can decrease the incidents of those seizures. It’s just, it’s kind of interesting.

I was talking to a client yesterday and she specializes in CBD tinctures and has a special needs child and works a lot with other parents of special needs children, told me a story of a child having about 450 seizures per month, started using a CBD tincture that had, you know, below the 0.3% THC. So it was not THC-free because it’s a full-spectrum product, but it had trace amounts very, very little. So most of the efficacy was coming from CBD and the other cannabinoids and terpenes in this product. Anyway, the child goes from 450 seizures a month to zero for several months. The child was able to not have a single seizure for several months and I think 450 a month. So yes, this is getting the attention of parents who sometimes get the efficacy they need from traditional pharmaceutical treatments on the medical system, but they often do not. And when they don’t, you know, that creates a desperation and they start looking for solutions and they don’t all get great results like that, but sometimes they do. So it’s an option that needs to ethically, it needs to be available to consumers and patients because it might work for them.

Kannaboomers: (14:30) Yeah. Because save a life, um, you know, it has that kind of story is it makes you angry to think that anybody would be against it. Our job on this episode is in, in these segments is to be informative, not necessarily persuasive, but in a case like this, I think, yeah, if anybody’s against this, then they deserve to be opposed by evidenced based reality.

Curt Robbins: (14:52) Right. Like we’re saying, there’s a lot more research going on, so, so we need some of these sick children and adults to be studied. Right. Let’s take that anecdotal story. Let’s, let’s get some, some hard research on that so we can convince the cynics, you know, a hundred, almost a hundred years of prohibition. This all started in the 19 teens at the city, at the municipal and the state level, uh, with narcotics, a sweeping narcotics, uh, regulations. And such. So we truly have had a century of stigma about these phytocannabinoids and terpenes, unfortunately based in politics and bigotry and racism and all that beautiful 20th century stuff. Hopefully we can get beyond it. Now we’ve got the power of social media to promote the science and not everybody’s tuned in to the science, but I try to ignore the politics and some of the emotions because it gets so contentious and say, OK folks, let’s go back to the science because we’ve got some amazing numbers here. And the mistake is to consider cannabis as like a cure all. Perhaps it has cured somebody’s cancer. A lot of people claim that, but I think it’s more intelligent to think of it as one tool in the toolbox. A lot of smart doctors are like, “Hey, don’t just say I’m not going to do chemo. I’m not going to do radiation. I’m not going to do traditional treatments. And all I’m going to do is, you know, take this, uh, CBD oil or whatever.” And hope that that saves me. It may be a variety of approaches that one of those tools is terpenes and cannabinoids along with other things.

Kannaboomers: (16:32) Right? Again, you’re talking about prohibition and the fact that, you know, our great grandparents could have walked into a drugstore and, and gotten a tincture for many different conditions and we’re just now, you know, a hundred years later, getting back to that sort of scenario and as you mentioned, we were smarter about how we share knowledge. We’ve got social media, we have better science happening. We can really uncover the basics of the endocannabinoid system and terpenes and all that stuff and just step forward into the future. Smarter about how we can use this plant for better wellness.

Curt Robbins: (17:02) Yeah, it’s very difficult to get away from the stigma, you know, Cheech and Chong, Scooby Doo, all that. Uh, you know, we’ve got a lot of Seth Rogen movies out there. You know, some of that’s all fun and good, but, uh, unfortunately there’s a lot of people who are culturally opposed, if you will, to cannabis and hemp. But I personally think that’s because of ignorance. You know, I’d like to think they’re not bad people, but they just instantly think of that the kids smoking pot when the parents are on vacation and having a party. And really what we need to be thinking about is that kid with Dravet Syndrome and they go from 450 seizures to zero. Okay. That’s really the magic I think. And that really opens a lot of people’s eyes.

Kannaboomers: (17:45) Yes. And for many other conditions in general too as we mentioned. So we’re going to be exploring a lot more of this in future episodes. Um, I don’t have an exact timer on this one, but I think we’re getting close to 20 minutes and I want to thank you, Curt for kicking this off and I look forward to the next 19 episodes and then we’ll see where we go from there. But this is a deep topic and you have such great knowledge and I really look forward to sharing all this with listeners and bring all of us up to speed on the science of cannabis.

Curt Robbins: (18:14) Yeah, thanks Tom. It’s going to be, it’s going to be fun to explore it. Like I say, it’s, it’s deep science, but sometimes it doesn’t take much to have that epiphany moment where a reader or listener gets it. Right? They finally understand what this is all about. It took me years, quite honestly. I had to really dig into the chemistry and I had to talk to lots of patients and you know, it was research studies and anecdotal evidence is really what it’s all about and we just have to spend a lot of time learning to understand unfortunately, or we just need to do it.

Kannaboomers: (18:47) Well, thanks for sharing your knowledge and uh, looking forward to episode two already.

Curt Robbins: (18:51) Thanks Tom

Kannaboomers: (18:51) You’ve been listening to Twenty 4:20, a special edition podcast series from Kannaboomers and Curt Robbins. Want to learn more and help grow the cannabis movement? Spread the word and follow us on your favorite podcast platform or at