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Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System

CANNABINOIDS

Cannabinoid distribution varies in different strains of cannabis, and typically only three or four cannabinoids are found in concentrations above 0.1%. The unique psychoactive cannabinoid THC has several therapeutic applications. It was first synthesized in 1964 by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, widely recognized as the father of the cannabinoid research. THC in applications ranging from medical treatment of pain to Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, Tourette’s syndrome, loss of appetite and is also effective as antiemetic (anti-nausea), for example to treat AIDS and chemotherapy patients.

The CBD is a non-psychotropic phytocannabinoid commonly found in some cannabis strains on which a large number of research projects have been recently focusing. The potential therapeutic use of the CBD has been shown for a large number of diseases and symptoms, including Dystonia, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and skin diseases. In 2012, Dr Leweke demonstrated  that the CBD can be successfully used in humans  as anti-psychotic medication [1]. A study appeared on the journal Neuropsychopharmacology2, where the researchers looked at previous studies on 66CBD and psychosis, confirmed the previous findings, concluding that the compound has a number of advantages over other drugs currently used, including no obvious side effects and no lethal doses.

Another large field of investigation for the CBD is that its anti-convulsing property: pre-clinical studies have indeed shown that the CBD, along with CBDV3, has the potential to reduce seizures. As far as cancer research, one of the latest studies underway is by the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem. The Organization has announced the launch of phase 2clinical trials to assess the impact of the CBD as a unique treatment in solid tumors. Other cannabinoids which have very important therapeutic applications are the cannabigerol (CBG), the cannabichromene (CBC) and the cannabinol (CBN).

THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM

The human body possesses specific binding sites for cannabinoids on the surface of many cell types and it produces several Endocannabinoids, fatty acid derivatives that bind to cannabinoid receptors(CB) hence activating them. Two types of cannabinoid receptors have been so far identified: CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB receptors and Endocannabinoids constitute the endogenous cannabinoid system, which takes its name from the cannabis plant. Some phytocannabinoids, including THC, mimic the effects of Endocannabinoids by binding to the same receptors.

In general terms, the endocannabinoid system is involved in many physiological processes, including motor control, memory and learning, perception of pain,  regulation of energy balance, and behaviors such as food intake. Other functions of the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in the modulation of immune, inflammatory, and endocrine responses, may be related to endocrine and vascular responses, to the modulation of the immune system and to neuro-protection. Finally, the endocannabinoid system may be able to exert anti-proliferative actions, because  receptors have been discovered in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), as well as in many organs and peripheral tissues. Depending on the cell type, the dose, and the State of the organism, the activation of CB receptors can cause a variety of effects including euphoria, anxiety, dry mouth, muscle relaxation, hunger and pain reduction.

NOTES

[1] Translational Psychiatry, 2012 Mar 20, Cannabidiol enhances anandamide signaling and alleviates psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia. F M Leweke, D Piomelli, F Pahlisch, D Muhl, C W Gerth, C Hoyer, J Klosterkötter, M Hellmich and D Koethe.

[2] European Neuropsychopharmacology, 2013 Dec 04, Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for psychosis. C.D. Schubart, I.E.C. Sommer, P. Fusar-Poli, L. de Witte, R.S. Kahn, M.P.M. Boks.

[3] British Journal of Pharmacology, 2013 Sep 17, Cannabidivarin-rich cannabis extracts are anticonvulsant in mouse and rat via a CB1receptor-independent mechanism. T D M Hill, M-G Cascio, B Romano, M Duncan, R G Pertwee, C M Williams, B J Whalley and A J Hill.