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International Conference on Complex Systems (ICCS2006)

Endocannabinoids: Multi-scaled, Global Homeostatic Regulators of Cells and Society

Robert Melamede
Biology Department, University of Colorado Colorado Springs

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     Last modified: August 15, 2006

Living systems are far from equilibrium open systems that exhibit many scales of emergent behavior. They may be abstractly viewed as a complex weave of dissipative structures that maintain organization by passing electrons from reduced hydrocarbons to oxygen. Free radicals are unavoidable byproducts of biological electron flow. Due to their highly reactive chemical properties, free radicals modify all classes of biological molecules (carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, and proteins). As a result, free radicals are destructive, however, they also have critical adaptive properties. The disruptive nature of free radicals makes them the “friction of life”. They are believed to be the etiological agents behind age related illnesses such as cardiovascular, immunological, and neurological diseases, cancer, and ageing itself.

Endocannabinoids are marijuana-like compounds that have their origins hundreds of millions of years in the evolutionary past. They serve as fundamental modulators of energy homeostasis in many multi-celled organisms including all vertebrates. They have widespread biological activities that may often be attributed to their ability to minimize the negative consequences of free radicals. In fact, since cannabinoids (endo and exo) possess many anti-aging properties, they may be viewed as the “oil of life”.

The biological effects of cannabinoids transcend many scales of organization. Cannabinoids regulate sub-cellular biochemistry, intercellular communication, and metabolism involving all biological systems (cardiovascular, digestive, excretory, immunological, nervous, musculo-skeletal, reproductive and tegumentary). It is proposed that their emergent properties extend to social, political, and economic phenomena. As a result of man’s unprecedented impact on his surroundings, the selective pressure on the evolutionary progression of man’s endocannabinoid system has novel time constraints that may be best met by behavioral modification. Presently, mankind is engaged in an evolutionary battle between more primitive members of a relatively cannabinoid deficient population and those relatively more endowed. The outcome of this genetic conflict may determine man's survival.

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