WHAT ARE CANNABINOIDS AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
“Cannabinoids” could also be a blanket term covering a family of advanced compounds (both natural and man-made) that lock on to cannabinoid receptors – organic compound molecules on the surface of cells.
Humans are using cannabis plants for healthful and recreational functions for thousands of years, however cannabinoids themselves were initial refined from cannabis plants within the Nineteen Forties. The structure of the most active ingredient of cannabis plants – delta-9 THC (THC) – was discovered within the 60s. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that researchers found the first cannabinoid receptor, followed shortly by the discovery that we create cannabinoid-like chemicals within our own bodies, known as endocannabinoids.
The CB1 and CB2 receptors
We have 2 differing types of cannabinoid receptor, CB1 and CB2, which are found in different locations and do different things. CB1 is usually found on cells within the system, including certain areas of the brain and the ends of nerves throughout the body, while CB2 receptors are mostly found in cells from the immune system. Because of their location inside the brain, it’s thought that CB1 receptors are responsible for the infamous ‘high’ (known as psychoactive effects) resulting from using cannabis.
Over the past few decades, specialists have found that endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors are involved in a vast array of functions in our bodies, including helping to control brain and nerve activity (including memory and pain), energy metabolism, heart function, the immune system and even reproduction. Because of this molecular multitasking, they’re implicated in a huge range of illnesses, from cancer to neurodegenerative diseases.
CAN CANNABINOIDS TREAT CANCER?
There is no doubt that cannabinoids – each natural and artificial – are fascinating biological molecules. Numbers of specialists around the world are studying their potential in cancer and other diseases – as well as the harms they can cause – brought together under the blanket organisation The International Cannabinoid Research Society.
Researchers initial checked out the metastatic tumor properties of cannabinoids back within the Nineteen Seventies, and many hundreds of scientific papers looking at cannabinoids and cancer have been printed since then. This Wellcome Witness seminar is also fascinating reading for aficionados of the history of Rick Simpsons Oil, including the scientific, political and legal twists.
Virtually all the research project investigation whether or not cannabinoids can treat cancer has been done using cancer cells grown within the science lab or animal models. It’s important to be cautious when extrapolating these results up to real live patients, who tend to be a lot more complex than a Petri dish or a mouse.
Through many careful experiments, handily summarised during this recent article within the journal Nature Reviews Cancer, scientists have discovered that varied cannabinoids (both natural and synthetic) have a good vary of effects in the lab, including:
- Triggering cell death, through a mechanism called apoptosis
- Stopping cells from dividing
- Preventing new blood vessels from growing into tumours
- Reducing the probabilities of cancer cells spreading through the body, by stopping cells from moving or invading neighbouring tissue
- Speeding up the cell’s internal ‘waste disposal machine’ – a method called autophagy – which might cause necrobiosis
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