The Discovery of THC and Endocannabinoids

Has been one of the biggest discoveries in human biology since, well, since… okay, in a looong time.

It started out when this cat, Raphael Mechoulam, wondered what the mechanism was behind cannabis affecting the human brain.  Morphine and cocaine had been isolated from their respective plants and their method of effect was known. What of cannabis?

It was in 1964 that Mechoulam isolated THC. Okay, so now we know there’s this molecule… how does it “hook-up?” And, in order for it to hook-up the body must create something similar. In 1992 he went on to discover a molecule that does just that. He called it Anandamide; the first endocannabinoid. Another, 2-AG, has since been discovered. Both break down rather quickly. That’s why everyone isn’t walking around stoned (Or are we? How would we know?).

So far so good. We’ve got phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids. But how, exactly, do they work? It stumped folks for a while. The biggest reason was because they were looking in the wrong direction. Endocannabinoids travel in the opposite direction from most brain signals. The whole thing starts on the post-synaptic side of the neurotransmitter. The endocannabinoid travels to the pre-synaptic side and the fits into the receptor regulating the exchange.

Most CB1 receptors are in the central nervous system. Most CB2 receptors are in the periphery, including the immune system. Our bodies are full of these things. It’s a whole regulating system that we weren’t aware of until someone wondered why cannabis made a person “stoned.” And remember, we hadn’t any idea of such a system until 1992.

Anandamide is a huge player in the regulatory system and research is being done now in an effort at tweaking some of these.  Anandamide is associated with memory. If that mechanism can be manipulated then it would be a boon to both Alzheimer’s patients and PTSD sufferers as well. The former wanting to remember the latter not.

It regulates appetite. Again, that can be tweaked in either direction.

There’s seizure research, pain, spasticity, the list of symptoms and maladies that might be treated by adjusting the endocannabioid system is huge. There’s a whole new field of pharmacology that revolves around endocannabinoids.

Reefer research has opened up a whole new world of medicine and a further understanding of how certain systems within the human body function. Systems we even didn’t know existed until fairly recently.

Pretty cool, huh? I think I’ll go tune up my receptors…

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