“Cannabinoids” is a blanket term covering a family of complex chemicals (both natural and man-made) that lock on to cannabinoid receptors – protein molecules on the surface of cells.
Humans have been using cannabis plants for medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years, but cannabinoids themselves were first purified from cannabis plants in the 1940s. The structure of the main active ingredient of cannabis plants – delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – was discovered in 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 two different types of cannabinoid receptor, CB1 and CB2, which are found in different locations and do different things. CB1 is mostly found on cells in the nervous 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 in 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 couple of decades scientists 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.
“Cannabidiol offers hope of a non-toxic therapy that could treat aggressive forms of cancer without any of the painful side effects of chemotherapy."
What is Cannabis Oil? And How Does It Help!
Simpson - Cannabis Oil is an evaporated solution of tetrahydrocannabinol and various other compounds produced by a solvent extraction of cannabis....
Can Cannabinoids treat cancer & other diseases?
There is no doubt that cannabinoids – both natural and synthetic – are interesting biological molecules. Hundreds of scientists around the world are investigating their potential in cancer and other diseases – brought together under the blanket organisation The International Cannabinoid Research Society.
Researchers first looked at the anticancer properties of cannabinoids back in the 1970s, and many hundreds of scientific papers looking at cannabinoids and cancer have been published since then.
Harvard University scientists reported that THC slows tumor growth in common lung cancer and “significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread.” What’s more, like a heat-seeking missile, THC selectively targets and destroys tumor cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed. Conventional chemotherapy drugs, by contrast, are highly toxic; they indiscriminately damage the brain and body.
There is mounting evidence, according to a report in Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, that cannabinoids “represent a new class of anticancer drugs that retard cancer growth, inhibit angiogenesis [the formation of new blood cells that feed a tumor] and the metastatic spreading of cancer cells.”
Dr. Sean McAllister, a scientist at the Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, has been studying cannabinoid compounds for 10 years in a quest to develop new therapeutic interventions for various cancers. Backed by grants from the National Institute of Health (and with a license from the DEA), McAllister discovered that cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive component of the marijuana plant, is a potent inhibitor of breast cancer cell proliferation, metastasis, and tumor growth.
In 2007, McAllister published a detailed account of how cannabidiol kills breast cancer cells and destroys malignant tumors by switching off expression of the ID-1 gene, a protein that appears to play a major role as a cancer cell conductor.
The ID-1 gene is active during human embryonic development, after which it turns off and stays off. But in breast cancer and several other types of metastatic cancer, the ID-1 gene becomes active again, causing malignant cells to invade and metastasize. “Dozens of aggressive cancers express this gene,” explains McAllister. He postulates that CBD, by virtue of its ability to silence ID-1 expression, could be a breakthrough anti-cancer medication.
“Cannabidiol offers hope of a non-toxic therapy that could treat aggressive forms of cancer without any of the painful side effects of chemotherapy,” says McAllister, who is seeking support to conduct clinical trials with the marijuana compound on breast cancer patients.
McAllister’s lab also is analyzing how CBD works in combination with first-line chemotherapy agents. His research shows that cannabidiol, a potent antitumoral compound in its own right, acts synergistically with various anti-cancer pharmaceuticals, enhancing their impact while cutting the toxic dosage necessary for maximum effect.
Breast cancer cells killed by CBD on right compared to untreated breast cancer cells on left. (Courtesy Pacific Medical Center)