The Cannabinoid System: Cannabinoids And Receptors

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Cannabis (marihuana) contains 60 or so different chemical compounds that bind to receptors (places where the drug sticks and has its effects) in the brain and body and are thus referred to as cannabinoids. In addition to the plant-derived cannabinoids in cannabis (called phytocannabinoids), your body also produces its own cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids) for purposes such as pain relief. There are 2 established receptors for cannabinoids, cannabinoid-1 (CB1) and cannabinoid-2 (CB2) as well as several other putative receptors. CB1 is widely distributed in the brain and is responsible for most of cannabis' cognitive effects, motor impairments, and social effects among others, while CB2 is more prevalent in the rest of the body and is responsible for most of cannabis' pain mediating effects. The cannabinoid receptors along with the cannabinoids that act upon them together make up the cannabinoid system in the body.

The best known of the plant-derived cannabinoids is Δ-9-THC. This is the compound responsible for the psychotropic (mind-altering) effects of cannabis. It has been widely studied in clinical research for therapeutic value and has led to the development of a variety of synthetic cannabinoid drugs. The most common types of synthetic cannabinoids either increase or decrease the activation of either the CB1 or CB2 receptors. This is in contrast to cannabis which increases the activation of both CB1 and CB2 more or less concurrently. Most of the therapeutic value of cannabis research lies in these synthetic cannabinoid drugs which have specific receptor targets and can maximize the benefits of cannabis while reducing or eliminating potentially unwanted side-effects (such as cannabis' mind-altering effects). Clinical uses of these synthetic cannabinoids to date include their use as anti-depressants, anxiolytics (reduce anxiety), anti-inflammatory, anti-emetics (reduce nausea), and anti-obesity (reduce desire for munchies).

Source: The cannabinoid system: cannabinoids and receptors - Vancouver health science |
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