Discovery of Endocannabinoid System Helps Propel Cannabis as Medicinal

Discovery of Endocannabinoid System Helps Propel Cannabis as Medicinal
By Aseem Sappal, Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Oaksterdam University

Many of us know that Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam and his associates identified THC in 1964, but few realize that it took nearly three decades to learn how cannabinoids worked in the human body.  In the mid-1980s a U.S. government funded study at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, showed the rat brain to have receptor sites that respond pharmacologically to compounds in cannabis resin and in 1990, Miles Herkenham mapped the locations of a cannabinoid receptor system in other mammalian species including humans.

One of the best introductions to the endocannabinoid system I’ve read is from Dr. Dustin Sulak, an integrative medicine physician, who contributed to NORML’s book Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids by NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano.

Dr. Sulak wrote, “Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.”

Cannabinoid receptors are believed to be more numerous than any other receptor system in the human body. Two research-identified cannabinoid receptors are CB1 and CB2. CB1 is predominantly present in the nervous system, connective tissues, gonads, glands, and organs. CB2 is found in the immune system. And, researchers suggest that a third cannabinoid receptor could exist, waiting to be found. Our bodies naturally make endocannabinoids to stimulate these receptors.

Phytocannabinoids are plant substances that stimulate cannabinoid receptors. THC, or Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the most psychoactive cannabinoid, but CBD (cannabidiol) and CBN (cannabinol) are two cannabinoids that have gained attention for their therapeutic properties. The cannabis plant even uses its cannabinoids to promote its own health and prevent disease.

What is astounding is that small doses of cannabinoids from cannabis can signal the body to make more endocannabinoids and build more cannabinoid receptors. Over one hundred cannabinoids are believed to be in the cannabis plant and cannabis has been shown to help a wide range of aliments from chronic pain and cancer treatment nausea to PTSD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis and many other diseases.

In a 2014 survey conducted by Dr. David Allen showed less than 14 percent of medical schools even mention the words “Endocannabinoid System” and the majority of medical professionals don’t even know this biological system exists. This is changing as public opinion has shifted to one that is predominantly positive about medical cannabis. Pew Research shows support for marijuana legalization is rapidly outpacing opposition and 25 states and DC have now legalized medical cannabis.

Oaksterdam University’s academic departments include science, business, history, horticulture, culinary arts, law, social science and applied sciences—all regarding cannabis and the cannabis industry. To learn more, please visit Oaksterdam University’s website oaksterdamuniversity.com or call us at 510-251-1544.

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