The cannabinoids found in the human body, can be thought of as the nervous system’s primary signaling molecules. The technical term for these internally-produced cannabinoids is endocannabinoid (eCB).
Endocannabinoids are made by special enzymes that help ‘pull’ them out of the cell membrane’s lipid layers. They’re produced constantly in virtually every area of the body. In other words, they’re as natural as one can get!
The primary endocannabinoid is called anandamide, or AEA (arachidonoyl ethanolamide). Its normal name is a clever combination of the Sanskrit term for “bliss” and the scientific suffix “-amide”. Anandamide is mostly active within the brain, where it plays a number of important roles.
Another abundant endocannabinoid is called 2-AG. Like anandamide, 2-AG helps the body maintain homeostasis. Unlike anandamide, 2-AG is mostly active within the body.
Other substances are not (yet) classified as cannabinoids, but may have similar effects. Fat-soluble compounds in dark chocolate, for example, function on endocannabinoid receptors so directly that they were first mistaken for anandamide. Another example; currently there’s a debate over whether or not beta-caryophyllene, a terpene found in black pepper and hemp, should be classified as a cannabinoid or not.
Within the body, many endogenous fat-soluble molecules closely replicate the action of endocannabinoids — though they’re not classified as such, either. Most of these molecules share arachidonic acid, an omega-6 fat, as their precursor. Interestingly enough, this molecule is used by both plants and humans to foster cellular signaling.