- Posted by NORML Women's Alliance
- On July 29, 2013
- 0 Comments
- California Institute for Cannabis Research, cancer, Cannabidiol, cannabinoid, cannabinoid receptors, cannabis, CBD, clinical trials, Dr. Estelle Toby Goldstein, Dr. Raphael Meshoulam, drug companies, endogenous, Food and Drug Administration, glutamate receptors, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, immune system, Israel, marijuana, medical school, metabolic process, neuroprotector, NORML, NORML Women's Alliance, opioid receptors, phytocannabinoids, receptors, research, synthetic cannabinoids, THC, women
I recently received the following inquiry: “I have a friend in medical school who is really interested in brain science. She is always talking about “opioid receptors” and “glutamate receptors” and stuff like that, but she has never heard of “cannabinoid receptors.” Do they even exist?” The answer – You better believe it!
Cannabinoids are a group of substances that are related in their nature and in their chemical structure, to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the “THC” which is the best known and best studied of the psychologically active compounds present in marijuana. There are specific receptors identified for Cannabinoid type substances. This name is also used to describe a number of types of compounds that bind to the Cannabinoid receptors – specialized molecules that give chemical substances that transmit messages a place to act. These receptors seem to be located primarily in the nervous system and in the immune system. Cannabinoid receptors occur naturally – not only in humans – but also in plenty of other animals. We know a couple of subtypes, and are surely going to discover more.
Some Cannabinoids are called “phytocannabinoids” – which comes from “phyte,” the Greek root meaning “plant,” and are not known to occur anywhere except in the marijuana plant. Some Cannabinoids are called “endocannabinoids” (“endo” meaning “within”). These Cannabinoids occur naturally within the human body. Still another group of Cannabinoids are Synthetic Cannabinoids; chemicals that have been put together in the laboratory but which seem to work on Cannabinoid receptors.
We are currently aware of two types of receptors for delta-9-tetra-hydro-cannabinol – TH1 and TH2 – which seem to play an important role in contributing to the feelings associated with being “high.” There are also non-psychoactive Cannabidiol (“CBD”) receptors (Types 1 and 2), which are active primarily in the immune system and seem to be involved in some metabolic processes. “Cannabidiol” is a cannabinoid, and indeed, a phytocannabinoid – since people seem to get it out of the marijuana plant all the time. The abbreviation “CBD” may be used broadly in connection with a large class of chemicals, or specifically, for a single chemical. It is now believed that at least three more kinds of CBD receptors that will soon be identified.
A “receptor” is a substance located generally on the membrane of a cell to which a substance attaches. In nature this is likely to be a “neurotransmitter,” a substance that carries messages from one cell to another, usually another cell that is part of the central nervous system. The substance can also be … a drug! (Yes, this is the kind of information that people use to make drugs). Humans and animals have plenty of these special places on their cells, especially sensitive to Cannabinoid (cannabis) type compounds. This is a wonderful topic – for the human body and that of our evolutionary predecessors (whatever came before humans) have been set up for this for a few million years.
Natural substances that are active on “opioid receptors” are “opiates” – things like opium, or heroin. The body makes substances like this all by itself. There are a lot of different types of receptors – but not all are “endogenous” – which means appearing naturally in the body. Opioids and Cannabinoids are examples of endogenous receptors.
These compounds have what seem to have really positive, maybe even overwhelmingly positive effects in both the brain and in the immune system. They are the subjects of much “preclinical” study in countries around the world. “Preclinical” means that the studies are done in the test tube and in animals, most often the mouse.
Effects of Cannabinoids shown in terms of the nervous system include possible and pretty darn probable beneficial effects on neurological (brain and nerve) illnesses including MS (multiple sclerosis), diabetes of all types and complications of that illness, and even brain tumors. Cataloguing the brain effects of these would take an entire book, which would have to include both the chemical effects of these individual compounds on the brain and the ways they affect human behavior. Effects of Cannabinoids shown in terms of the immune system include probably limiting the spread of some pretty aggressive cancers, such as ovary, breast, thyroid, and even brain cancers. It may be doing this by turning off a cell mechanism that promotes many other cancers, too.
Although there are still some folks in the United States who are doing research with Cannabinoid receptors – I am not sure who funds them, where they are, or what they are doing with their research. I know that there was a California Institute for Cannabis Research that made many important findings while they were being funded. We all want more studies of these things in humans, but it is hard to get money for this in these United States. This makes many people angry and unhappy…… including me.
Medical school departments are often financially supported – at least in part – by drug companies. Drug companies require clinical trials – which are studies of how people react on a particular drug. Clinical trials are required in order to get the drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration. When I was finishing my residency, I saw patients for such clinical trials. I was at a small mid-western university and a fellow in psychopharmacology. Although we only ran a few trials, most university departments in major cities are conducting thousands of clinical trials.
One of the problems here is determining what is really science and what is not. Cannabidiol is (I think) the stuff that folks are talking about when they talk about “high THC” and “high CBD” strains or preparations for consumption – with the implication that high THC is more psychoactive, getting folks “high,” while “high CBD” helps folks with healing problems, mostly of the nervous and immune systems. There are plenty of effects that have been attributed specifically to Cannabidiol, including anti-anxiety effects, anti-spasmodic effects, as well as anti-immune effects.
People are trying to make marijuana strains that are CBD rich, hoping to make treatments that will permit relieving the problems of liver inflammation, immune system illnesses (like colitis) and such. This is not as easy as it sounds because CBD seems to interfere with the metabolism of the THC in the liver, and seems to raise THC levels. It appears that CBD increases the effects of THC.
The leading researcher in this direction seems to originate with Dr. Raphael Meshoulam, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, whose research team has synthesized (put together artificially, not from the plant) all of the major Cannabinoids, including Cannabidiol. Generally, it seems to be neuroprotective; which means that it keeps a neurological disease from getting worse. It seems to work on the Cannabinoid receptor.
Cannabinoid receptors give us knowledge that may provide new uses for different types of Cannabinoids that come from marijuana plants. Nobody is paid to teach about Cannabinoids in what seems to me to be a drug company dominated medical education system. Rest assured I am watching this closely, and will do my level best to keep you informed.