In 2005, Roger from Denver began using cannabis as a way to deal with the consequences of a rare cancer that had metastasized to his brain. Doctors gave him a grim diagnosis, but Roger never gave up and never gave in. Overcoming formidable odds, Roger is alive and well today. He credits his remarkable recovery in large part to the cancer cell-targeting properties of the medical cannabis he ingests.
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Roger, like many other advocates of the versatile vegetable, views cannabis as a plant with “miraculous” abilities to alleviate a host of conditions, including pain, nausea, inflammation, schizophrenia, MS, epilepsy, and cancer, to name just a few. In the past, claims like this would have been viewed with narrow eyes, through lenses darkly tinted with mis- and disinformation. Thanks to biochemistry, however, there is factual reinforcement for the array of reported benefits.
A new body system?
Scientists are still trying to discover why cannabis affects us the way it does. In 1988 Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and his team discovered a new body system, equally important to human life as the musculoskeletal, digestive, nervous, or any other system we have. A vast organization of cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2, known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS) act as microscopic on-and-off switches for our cellular processes. These receptors are detectable in the earliest embryonic stages, and the ECS plays a number of vital roles in pre- and postnatal development. It is critical to regulating the functioning of all 210 cell types of the human body. In the early 1990’s Dr. Mechoulam determined that the CB1 and CB2 receptors are activated by cannabis molecules that the body itself manufactures—also part of the ECS.
Incidentally, various molecules (phytocannabinoids) found in a single ancient species of plant also activate the receptors, which are concentrated in areas of the brain responsible for motion, anxiety, judgment, hunger, and sensation, as well as in the immune system, spleen, liver, and neurological system. It took the breakthrough discovery of this entirely new body system to convince the medical establishment of some obvious facts already well known to cannabis consumers. For example, maybe the same mechanism that gives stoners the munchies can bless cancer patients with restoration of their appetite for nourishment. Or, the same non-toxic herb that helps adults relax just could be an answer for those who suffer pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, even opiate painkiller addiction—if they have access to the forbidden flower.
How is CBD different?
Surprisingly, the body does not produce an analog of CBD (cannabidiol), one of the two principal chemical ingredients found in cannabis and probably the most medically important cannabinoid.
Scientists had reasoned that the brain must produce a chemical very similar to CBD that would activate CB receptors during normal body operations. But according to ProjectCBD, here comes some biochemistry talk for why their reasoning was wrong:
“Unlike psychoactive THC, CBD has little binding affinity to either the CB1 or CB2 cannabinoid receptors. Instead, CBD indirectly stimulates endogenous cannabinoid signaling by suppressing the enzyme fatty acid amide hydroxylase (FAAH)—the enzyme that breaks down anandamide.”
In other words, CBD doesn’t act directly as an additional cellular switch-flipper. Instead, it plays defense: It exerts its influence by preventing the body’s own cannabis medicine, anandamide, from being degraded in the cells. This allows our naturally produced cannabis to remain active longer. It may also have a similar prolongation effect on cannabinoids we consume.
Because CBD does not stimulate either CB1 or CB2 receptors, it completely lacks psychotropic, or mood-altering, effects. In fact, it is excellent at counteracting many effects of THC such as mild anxiety, hunger and thirst, and euphoria. It is a wonderful natural medicine with a list of conditions it can remedy that is truly astonishing in both sheer length and the diversity of ailments.