Traditional plants that engage the endocannabinoid system and their medicinal potential

Traditional plants that engage the endocannabinoid system and their medicinal potential

This is an article created by Fundacion CANNA, a Spanish non-profit organization that carries out studies and conducts research on Cannabis and its active compounds. Its main focus is on Cannabis plants and their active compounds, related studies and scientific research, especially regarding its effects on the human body and mind and regarding Cannabis use and its derivatives. Fundación CANNA has it’s own laboratory where different kind of tests are performed.
Plant-based medicines have been an integral part of human survival and remain an essential and revered asset to health and wellness. On a global level, the World Health Organization estimates that about 80% of the population in developing countries rely on traditional, plant-based medicines. The cannabis plant's use in medicine, religious ceremonies and recreation dates back 5000 years. Although the plant is currently viewed with controversy, scientists have worked to gain a technical understanding of the plant's biochemical and medicinal properties.

By Abha Gupta and Geary Coogler

The endocannabinoid system (ECS)


Between the 1930's to 1960's, several impactful chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, within the cannabis plant were identified, including delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabidivarin (CBDV), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). Between 1988-1992 another advancement came with identifying cannabinoid receptors in mammals, known as CB1 and CB2. Cannabinoids engage these receptors that then induce a bodily response. Once cannabinoid receptors had been discovered, it became important to establish whether mammalian tissues also produce substances to activate the receptors or if these receptors are only targeted by plant-derived and synthetic cannabinoids.

In 1992, the first mammalian produced cannabinoid, arachidonoylethanolamide, was discovered and named anandamide from 'ananda', the Sanskrit word for 'bliss'. Anandamide, is synthesized in areas of the brain used for memory, motivation, higher thought processes, and movement control. It also plays an important role in pain, appetite, fertility, and cancer cell mitigation. The cannabinoid protein receptors, CB1 and CB2, together with mammalian produced cannabinoids, make up what is now known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

These discoveries lead to classifying the types of cannabinoids that engage with the ECS and a greater understanding of the types of responses induced from activating the CB1 and CB2 receptors. There are over 100 different cannabinoids. Exogenous cannabinoids are produced outside the mammalian body by plants or synthetically designed by chemists. Exogenous cannabinoids include phytocannabinoids, which are plant-derived and include the popularly known compounds THC and CBD. Endogenous cannabinoids, also known as endocannabinoids, are produced by the body, self-regulated, and include anandamide and other N-acylethanolamines (NAEs).

Cannabinoids engage with the two protein receptors, CB1 and CB2. These receptors are found all over the human body. CB1 receptors are expressed most densely in the central nervous system, but are also throughout the body. The CB1 receptor induces the psychoactive responses from cannabinoids, the most well-known being THC. CB2 receptors are found in the nervous system, immune system, and gastrointestinal system. Both receptors are also found in organs, glands, muscle cells, fat cells, and immune cells, accounting to be more numerous than any other receptor system. Researchers believe there is possibly a third cannabinoid receptor.

Since the ECS engages and effects the body in potentially therapeutic ways, researchers have been investigating how to target key aspects of the system to treat a wide range of diseases and pathological conditions. Some of the diseases and conditions in focus range from mood and anxiety disorders, neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson's, Huntington's disease, and Alzheimer's, seizures, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, obesity/metabolic syndrome, glaucoma, reproductive disorders, and osteoporosis.

An impediment to the development of cannabinoid medications has been the socially unacceptable psychoactive properties of plant-derived or synthetic compounds that trigger the CB1 receptor. However, this problem does not arise when the treatment is combined with a CB1 receptor antagonist, which effectively turns the "off switch" on the CB1 receptor. Another possible technique for avoiding the psychological aspect of the ECS is by enhancing metabolism for endocannabinoids, since they are already produced by the human body

Read further about plants that engage the ECS

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