WHAT ARE CANNABINOIDS?
Cannabinoids are a group of terpenophenolic compounds present in Cannabis (”Cannabis sativa”) and occur naturally in the nervous and immune systems of animals. The broader definition of cannabinoids refers to a group of substances that are structurally related to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or that bind to cannabinoid receptors.
The chemical definition encompasses a variety of distinct chemical classes: the classical cannabinoids structurally related to THC, the nonclassical cannabinoids, the aminoalkylindoles, the eicosanoids related to the endocannabinoids, 1, quinolines and arylsulphonamides, and additional compounds that do not fall into these standard classes but bind to cannabinoid receptors. The term ”cannabinoids” also refers to a unique group of secondary metabolites found in the cannabis plant, which are responsible for the plant’s peculiar pharmacological effects.
At the present time, there are three general types of cannabinoids: ”phytocannabinoids” occur uniquely in the cannabis plant; ”endogenous cannabinoids” are produced in the bodies of humans and other animals; and ”synthetic cannabinoids” are similar compounds produced in a laboratory.
Endocannabinoids are natural compounds within the human body that are essentially identical to medicinal compounds found in cannabis. The endocannabinoid system regulates many aspects of health with receptors located throughout the body including the brain and nervous system. All mammals are known to have cannabinoid receptors, presumably because mammals have evolved along with cannabis throughout history. Interestingly, even fish have receptors for cannabis compounds. One modern researcher, Dr. Gregory T. Carter of the University of Washington, explains some of the current understandings of the cannabis-like compounds crucial to human life:
“It now appears that the cannabinoid system evolved with our species and is intricately involved in normal human physiology, specifically in the control of movement, pain, memory, and appetite, among others. The detection of widespread cannabinoid receptors in the brain and peripheral tissues suggests that the cannabinoid system represents a previously unrecognized ubiquitous network in the nervous system. Dense receptor concentrations have been found in the cerebellum, basal ganglia and hippocampus, accounting for the effects on motor tone, coordination and mood state. Low concentrations are found in the brainstem, accounting for remarkable low toxicity.”
“Two endogenous lipids, anandamide (AEA) and 2-aracidonylglycerol (2-AG) have been identified as cannabinoids, although they are likely to be more. The physiological roles of these endocananbinoids have been only partially clarified but available evidence suggests they function as diffusible and short-lived intercellular messengers that modulate synaptic transmission.”
“Both endogenous and exogenous cannabinoids appear to have neuroprotective and antioxidant effects. Recent studies have demonstrated the neuroprotective effects of synthetic, non-psychotropic cannabinoids, which appear to protect neurons from chemically-induced excitotoxicity. Direct measurement of oxidative stress reveals that cannabinoids prevent cell death by antioxidation. The antioxidative property of cannabinoids is confirmed by their ability to antagonize oxidative stress and consequent cell death induced by the powerful oxidant, retinoid anhydroretinol. Cannabinoids also modulate cell survival and the growth of B-lymphocytes and fibroblasts.”
“The most recent therapeutic role for cannabinoids in the central nervous system evolved from the discover that cannabinoids selectively induce apoptosis in glioma cells in vitro and that THC and other cannabinoids lead to a spectacular regression of malignany gliomas in immune-compromised rats in vivo. The mechanism underlying this is not yet clear but it appears to involved both CB1 and CB2 activation.”