Sensi: Endocannabinoids

Leland Rucker, senior editor at Sensi Magazine takes a look at new research into endocannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis plants, more than a hundred different ones so far. The most recognized are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), known for its psychoactive properties, and cannabidiol (CBD), recognized for its medical applications. Those are called phytocannabinoids.

Rucker says that scientists have also discovered cannabinoids that are produced naturally in the body. Called endocannabinoids, they have structures similar to phytocannabinoids. first endocannabinoid called anandamide after the Sanskrit word for bliss, in 1992, and later found another, called 2-arachidonoylglycero, or 2-AG.

In 1988, scientists found receptors in all mammals that respond to cannabinoids, CB-1 receptors found in the brain and CB-2 receptors found throughout the body. These endocannabinoids hook up with these receptors. In biochemistry, it’s called the “lock-and-key” model, where the cannabinoid molecules act like “keys” that fit into the CB receptor “locks.” THC is structurally similar to anandamide, and CBD is comparable to 2-AG. THC “unlocks” the CB-1 receptor in almost the same way anandamide does, and CBD “unlocks” the CB-2 receptor much like 2-AG.

“The reason we interact with cannabis so strongly is that we have this natural architecture to interact with cannabinoids,” says biochemist Samantha Miller, founder of Pure Analytics, a cannabis testing facility in California. “You find these all over the body, in the nervous system, the immune system, everywhere. The endocannabinoids control and influence a lot of different things, like sleep, appetite, anxiety, addiction, the cardiovascular system, immune system — everything to do with quality of life.”

Currently, the University of Vermont is the only medical school in the country with an accredited course on the endocannabinoid system in its curriculum.

Oncologists, who already know it helps relieve the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, are among the leading edge of physicians beginning to take cannabis seriously, and other specialists are looking into cannabinoid alternatives, Solomon says. “A recent National Academies of Science study found that cannabinoids are being used to treat chronic pain in adults, and it does work.” “So anesthesiologists are saying, ‘Maybe this is something we should look at.’”

Dr. Selma Holden told Rucker that some of the most exciting research today concerns cannabinoids’ anti-inflammatory qualities. “When you think of it, a lot of diseases, not all of them, have an inflammation component,” she says. “In dementia, in asthma, it’s all inflammation. That’s what’s interesting about the endocannabinoid system. It’s influencing these inflammation markers.”

Much of the emphasis on cannabis healing these days is concentrated around CBD and marketed for its non-psychoactive effects. Holden cautions that if someone is using cannabis for a chronic condition like back pain or Crohn’s disease, the feeling of elevation can be an important part of the therapy, too. “We can’t fall too much into the belief system that having an altered state of consciousness is bad.”

“Our brains are ideally suited for cannabis,” Chris Kilham, an author and ethnobiologist who studies plant-based remedies as the Medicine Hunter on Fox News, told Rucker. “There’s no substance other than water that has the health benefits and continued significance of those benefits.”

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