Cannabinoids – Cannabi – what?

Cannabinoids. What are they? What do they have to do with Marijuana?  

The bioactive compounds that are present in the Marijuana plant selectively bind to cannabinoid-shaped receptors encoded by our genes.  Spread throughout your brain and nervous system are these such cannabinoid receptors – known as CB1 and CB2 receptors.  The importance of these receptors is linked to the regulation of the different  physiological processes throughout the body.  The shape of the THC molecule was realized to be important because of how it seemed to act like a molecular key to these cannabinoid receptors, thus activating them. 

Are we only able to activate these cannabinoid receptors by consumption of the Marijuana plant?

The signals that drive the function of our cannabinoid receptors are due to a family of molecules present in the brain and other tissues called endocannabinoids. These endocannabinoids are native, endogenous molecules that bind to our cannabinoid receptors which, in turn, puts the body in homeostasis.   So, what if someone had a mutation in their DNA or a chemical imbalance in their brain that prevents the cells from releasing endocannabinoids? 

This is where Cannabis comes in.  The use of Medicinal Cannabis has been around for thousands of years, providing symptomatic relief and a way to increase homeostatic function within our bodies. The plant has an effect on our body because of its cannabinoids that unlock and activate our CB1 and CB2 receptors.  Because these receptors are expressed on many different cells and tissue types, it is the activation of the cannabinoid receptors that are responsible for the diversity of effects that Cannabis provides.  This is also why Cannabis affects everyone differently; it’s dependent on one’s own endocannabinoid system, where these receptors are expressed.  Unfortunately, because of the individuality of endocannabinoid systems and the limited research on it, pinpointing exactly what cannabinoids in the plant provides symptomatic relief is difficult.  As Cannabis becomes more legalized and accepted, future studies will be able to provide more insight on the process and function of the endocannabinoid system. 

Definitions:

Endogenous – Endogenous substances and processes are those that originate from within a system such as an organism, tissue, or cell.

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