Psychoactivity of Cannabinoids
Biology 342 Fall 06
Web Design by Courtney Chapman and Ryan Goehrung
Why is it important to understand the relationship of cannabinoids and the brain?
Humans realized the psychoactive affects of cannabinoids thousands of years ago. The most well known source of external cannabinoids comes from the plant Cannabis sativa, known colloquially as marijuana. Ancient Chinese and Indian texts dating as far back as 2700 BCE describe the use of cannabis in medicinal and ritual applications. The Ancient Greek historian Herodotus describes the use of cannabis as an intoxicant by a nomadic tribe of Western Europe in the 4th Century BCE and archeological evidence dating even farther back confirms the presence and ritualistic use of cannabis in Northern and Western Europe.
Although humans have utilized the potent chemicals contained in this plant for several millennia, the biochemical processes and affects are still not well understood. Research in the last few decades has only just begun to shed light on the psychoactivity of cannabinoids. And while scientist have made many important and unforeseen discoveries regarding cannabinoids affects on the brain, the result of most research seems to be more questions rather than answers.
The main psychoactive ingredient in Cannabis sativa is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinoid, or THC. Recent research has led to the discovery of specific cannabinoid receptors endogenous, meaning within, humans as well as in many other organisms. These inherent cannabinoid receptors, which THC and other cannabinoids act upon, are now called CB1 and CB2. CB1 is mainly located in the brain and gonads and is largely responsible for the psychoactive affects of cannabinoids, while CB2 is concentrated mainly in peripheral cells and is responsible for many other bodily effects including affects on the immune system. Although, cannabis is the most commonly known source of cannabinoids THC is by no means the only cannabinoid, in fact many other CB1 and CB2 agonists and antagonists have recently been discovered.
The purpose of this website is to inform readers about the interesting and extensive ways that cannabinoids interact with the brain and body via the recently discovered endocannabinoid system. In particular this website focuses on the behaviors linked to the activation or inhibition of the psychoactive CB1 receptor. Due to the complicated biochemical processes necessarily involved with the discussion of the endocannabinoid system, the following structure will apply to the linked topics: First, each subtopic will be described as thoroughly as possible using all necessary terminology. Then, the above information will be summarized as simply and succinctly as possible in order to make this website accessible to all.
Note from the Authors:
The information in this site is presented from a purely scientific point of view. We here present the most accurate, detailed and unbiased information available to us. We wish neither to advocate or oppose, legalization or use of external cannabinoids. We wish only to inform readers about what is currently known, and to make clear that much is left undiscovered on the subject. We seek only to persuade others to inform themselves of the consequences of their actions before acting. For example, the use of cannabis by ancient societies as medicines is an often cited arguement for recreational ingestion of the plant in current times; however, with a bit more information one would find that the same ancient societies used now universally recognized harmful procedures such as bloodletting or the ingestion of mercury. In summation, we, the authors, believe knowledge and understanding are two of the most powerful tools available to persons in a free society and seek merely to promote the spread of information.
Some other informative websites on the topic of cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system include the following (Note: Any views expressed in these sites or links from these sites are not those held by the authors of this particular page, nor can their accuracy be attested to by the authors of this site):
Erowid - Overview of the Endogenous Cannabinoid System