Recently, the discovery of a receptor network in our bodies is revolutionizing THC and CBD research, with potential benefits to other areas of our healthcare system.
Scientists made the amazing discovery of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC in 1964. It paved the way for future research about how the compounds THC and CBD act on the brain and body. Researchers made history by discovering an entirely new system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) has been a major focus of study recently. This newly found system of neurotransmitters changed the way scientists are seeing how our brains function. Using a synthetic THC compound, they mapped the entire system. It showed receptors in logical places like memory, sleep, hunger, and motor coordination areas of the brain. The first discovery of this system came in 1992. Dubbed CB1, the receptor finally explained how cannabis and its derivatives worked on the brain. In 1993, another discovery was made with a second receptor that was named CB2. This receptor was different as it was found in different areas of the body such as the liver, digestive system, spleen, bones, blood vessels, lymph, and reproductive systems. There must be a logical answer for their existence and we are finding them.
What does it do?
Why do we have all of these endocannabinoid receptors? William Duvane, Raphael Mechoulam, and Dr. Lumir Hanus would answer that in 1992 with the discovery of the first endocannabinoid. Anandamide was the first endocannabinoid that was isolated. Meaning bliss in Sanskrit, the naturally occurring cannabinoid set the stage for understanding why we have these receptors in the first place. It was found to bind to these same neuroreceptors. The second endocannabinoid was found in 1995 by the same research team that found the initial compound. A-2G was shown to bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors making it versatile. By tracing the metabolic pathway of THC, researchers had a map of the endocannabinoid system. They observed these two compounds bind to those same receptors, but not directly like THC. They altered the activation site on the receptors! This means they are very effective in making sure what attaches is supposed to be there. How do these compounds work? Researchers believe that CB1 regulates neurotransmitter release, limiting central nervous system activity. This is important because hyperactivity in the brain would cause damage. CB1 also plays a role in reducing inflammation and anxiety. A study of rat models showed that CB1 is directly involved with anxiety driven decisions. CB2 is thought to be an inhibitor as well, regulating cell processes in developing tissue. Research is showing that it may be helpful in the treatment of pain because of its ability to inhibit response. Their function could also play a key role in autoimmune disease treatment. As more research is done, we are finding how important the endocannabinoid system is to our lives.
Future of Endocannabinoid Research
There is great interest in the way this system can be used to treat autoimmune disease and mental illness. The latest research has shown how important this system is to homeostasis in the body. More time will be put into proving why and how they can be exploited for health benefits. Treating depression is one area that will be researched heavily. Knowing how cannabinoids and their receptors play a role in immune response will also likely be a priority. Cancer treatment will be studied because of the inhibitory nature of the system. The applications of these discoveries are endless and exciting. The key to our health may be at our fingertips!