Medical marijuana: ways cannabis might be good for you
It’s been a long time coming but we’re finally investigating (scientifically) the medicinal properties of a drug that’s been used for millennia — marijuana.
Cannabis is probably best known as a recreational drug but there’s actually only one known molecule in weed that makes you high.
It’s the heady qualities of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, that gets you stoned and has made marijuana famous. But there are more than 100 other chemical substances in the plant.
These chemicals, known as cannabinoids, offer huge medical potential because they tap into one of the human bodies’ natural systems — the endocannabinoid system.
Yes — that’s right — your body’s own cannabis system.
To date, we know of two endocannabinoid receptors in the body. CB1 is expressed abundantly in the brain, and CB2 is present in the immune system. Both are found in the central nervous system.
These receptors respond to our very own cannabis-like compounds.
Surprised? Well you shouldn’t be.
“It’s not surprising because for the drugs to work they have to be modulating something in the brain and it turned out to be a natural cannabis system,” Sydney University pharmacologist Jonathon Arnold said.
While science has learnt quite a lot over the last 30 years about the body’s natural cannabis system, we still don’t know the specifics of how the various molecules in cannabis interact with our bodies. But we’re due to find out very soon.
Earlier this year, Federal Parliament passed landmark legislation to allow the controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and related scientific purposes.
Clinical trials designed to test marijuana’s effects on certain health conditions are also ramping up across the country.
Can cannabis benefit child epilepsy?
Researchers from the Sydney University are drawing on anecdotal, community experience with medicinal cannabis to learn more about its chemical components.
They’re taking tinctures and oils that are already being used by families to treat severe childhood epilepsy and analysing what’s actually in the product.
“We’re looking at ways that we can harness the power of what’s already happening in the community and back translate some of the signals,” Professor Iain McGregor from Sydney University’s Lambert Initiative said.
“We want to learn more about the fundamental mechanisms that may be therapeutically useful with cannabis.”
It is the compound CBD (cannabidiol) that is thought to have the positive effect in reducing the frequency of seizures in epilepsy but there are many other so far unexplored cannabinoids that may also play a role.