For thousands of years, healers around the world have used cannabis to help their patients. In more recent times, scientists have discovered the chemical properties and biological functions that make cannabis an effective treatment for ailments ranging from seizures to nausea to anxiety.
In the late 1800s, the first cannabinoid was isolated from a red oil extract of cannabis, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that researchers discovered cannabinoid receptors in the human body. This week, we’ll share an overview of what we know about cannabinoids and how they work so you have a high-level understanding of the science behind medical marijuana.
A CANNABINOID PRIMER: THE KEY AND THE LOCK
The human body produces compounds known as endocannabinoids that mediate communication between cells to maintain body health and stability.
Cannabis flowers secrete compounds knowns as cannabinoids, or more specifically phytocannabinoids, which imitate the endocannabinoids that the body produces. Three phytocannabinoids that receive a lot of attention include:
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – The primary psychoactive compound in cannabis
Cannabidiol (CBD) – The most abundant cannabinoid
Cannabinol (CBN) – The first cannabinoid extracted from cannabis oil
You can find more in-depth information about these and other cannabinoids in a recent blog post, Understanding the Physical & Chemical Properties of Cannabis.
To put cannabinoids to use, the human body uses cannabinoid receptors. The easiest way to think of the process is like this: Cannabinoids are the keys, and receptors are the locks. When they come together, they work to heal the body in various ways, such as:
CB1 – Found in the brain, eyes, and reproductive system, it helps with memory, mood, sleep, appetite, and pain sensation. In fact, the brain has more cannabinoid receptors than any other receptor of the same type.
CB2 – Found in the immune system and peripheral nervous system, it works to reduce inflammation.
TroV-1 – Found in the peripheral nervous system and in port of entry tissues (skin, gut, airways, conjunctiva), it mediates pain perception.
When an individual consumes cannabis, the keys find the locks and bind together to alleviate pain, inflammation, and nausea, and treat neurological conditions, such as seizures, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, and ALS. The right lock and key can also alleviate symptoms that accompany anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and ADHD.
FROM SCIENCE TO HISTORY
Historians have found evidence of medicinal marijuana use dating as far back as 4,754 years ago. Here are a few highlights through the centuries:
2737 BCE – First recorded use of medicinal cannabis by Chinese emperor Shen Neng
2000 – 800 BCE – Dried cannabis named one of five sacred plants of India, used for medicine and rituals
1500 BCE – Cannabis cultivation first recorded in China
0-200 CE – Medical use of cannabis recorded in numerous sources:
– Pliny the Elder’s Natural History
– Greek physician Galen
– First pharmacopoeia of the east
1764 – Medical marijuana appears in The New England Dispensatory
1840 – Cannabis-based medicines available in U.S.
1850-1915 – Medicinal marijuana widely used in U.S.
Late 1800s – First cannabinoid (CBN) isolated from cannabis oil
1930s – Scientists map the structure of CBN
1940 – Cannabinoids first synthesized in a lab
1942 – THC first extracted from cannabis
1963 – Scientists map the structure of CBD
1964 – Scientists map the structure of THC
1977 – Carl Sagan suggests marijuana was world’s first agricultural crop
1988 – Cannabinoid receptors found in the body
1992 – Scientists discover endocannabinoids
As scientific tools and technology continue to improve, bio-pharma companies will be better able to isolate and study the chemical makeup of cannabis. From there, more treatments, cures, and disease management protocols can be developed. We’re excited to see what the next 50 years will add to the timeline.
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