MEDICAL 

CANNABIS 

PRIMER

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Glossary of Terms

Cannabinoids naturally occurring or synthetic chemicals that act on the cannabinoid receptors.

Cannabis Cannabis sativa L. – a member of the Cannabaceae family – contains a number of active elements. The main active constituents include THC (delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

Cannabinoid receptors cell membrane receptors found in the brain, the peripheral nervous system, and many organs and tissues. These receptors recognize our own endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids (i.e., THC, CBD) from the cannabis plant. They are typically inclusive of the CB1 and CB2 receptors, but also include other receptors that cannabinoids bind to.

Endocannabinoids the cannabinoids (endogenous neurotransmitters) produced naturally in the bodies of humans and animals that bind to cannabinoid receptors.

Endocannabinoid system the endocannabinoid system is critical to the body's overall homeostasis, and influences all of our main organ and tissue systems. This is a unique biological system; its mechanisms are responsive and capable of adaptation and thus allows for a biological response aligned to system demand or environmental conditions.

Entourage effect suspected synergistic interactions between cannabinoids and terpenes that lead to modifying or enhancing the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids in different ways. Terpenes are a major component of Cannabis sativa L, responsible for the plant’s aroma and taste. The therapeutic synergy between cannabinoids and terpenes has not yet been confirmed in clinical research.

Phytocannabinoids cannabinoids that occur naturally in cannabis and are derived from the cannabis plant. There a number of known cannabinoids. The most studied phytocannabinoids are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD):  

THC is the most well-known cannabinoid. THC is responsible for many of the medicinal effects of cannabis. These may include, among others, reduction of nausea, vomiting, pain and muscle spasms, and improvement of sleep and appetite.

CBD is another major cannabinoid. It has medicinal effects, but does not induce a psychotropic state (i.e. its use does not result in feelings of intoxication). CBD may be effective in conditions such as epilepsy, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety disorder.

Terpenes the aromatic compounds which give cannabis its smell and taste. Each distinct cannabis variety has a unique composition of terpenes. The terpenes are suspected to be involved in different interactions with cannabinoids

The Cannabis Plant

Like other plants, cannabis is made up of hundreds of chemical compounds. It also comes in many different types. Some people refer to indica, sativa, or ruderalis types. But all of these belong to the same species: Cannabis sativa L. – a member of the Cannabaceae family. Many people are familiar with cannabis by the name hemp.

There are male and female cannabis plants, each with a distinct way of blooming. The cannabis plant has a lifespan of one year. The plant typically reaches a height of two to three meters (seven to 10 feet), after which it blooms and the growth ceases. After fertilisation, the seeds mature and the plant dies.

The Cannabinoids

Over 500 chemical compounds are produced by the cannabis plant. Of these, at least 100 are unique to the cannabis plant – the cannabinoids. The plant-derived cannabinoids are termed phytocannabinoids. The major phytocannabinoids, and those we know most about, are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC possesses psychoactive effects, while CBD is non-psychoactive (i.e. it does not alter perception or consciousness). The cannabinoids are biologically active chemicals.  The concentration of cannabinoids varies throughout the plant (excluding seeds and roots). The highest concentration is found in the unfertilized female flower. The biological activity is mainly linked to the major cannabinoids THC and CBD.

Although THC and CBD have unique activities, it is becoming clear that a wider range of cannabinoids and other constituents of the cannabis plant may be involved in its various therapeutic effects. These include the cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), cannabichromene (CBC), and cannabigerol (CBG). These minor cannabinoids are thought to subtly modulate or enhance biological effects when taken therapeutically. This effect may be the result of them working on their own or working together with THC and CBD.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system is a network of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors that exist throughout our bodies. It is thought to exist in all animals on earth, and it is absolutely crucial to our survival. The cannabinoid receptors exist on the surface of cells and “listen” to what's going on in the body. They communicate this information about our bodies’ status and changing circumstances to the inside of the cell, allowing for the appropriate measures to be taken. In other words, they allow us to maintain homeostasis by monitoring what is going on in our bodies. Scientists have identified two primary cannabinoid receptors, called the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Although both types of receptors can be found all throughout the body, CB1 receptors are more highly concentrated in the brain and central nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors can be found more abundantly in the immune system, organs, and tissues.

Most of us have by now heard of the cannabinoids found in plants, called phytocannabinoids, but the body also produces its own, which are referred to as endocannabinoids. These molecules are created whenever we need them, usually in response to some change in the body. They can bind directly with the cannabinoid receptors – you can think of them as slotting into one another like a jigsaw puzzle or a lock and key. 

To date, scientists have identified two major endocannabinoids, anandamide and 2-AG. Endocannabinoids are made from fat-like molecules within cell membranes. Once the endocannabinoids have fulfilled their usage, metabolic enzymes are able to break them down again. FAAH breaks down anandamide, while MAGL breaks down 2-AG. This ensures that the endocannabinoids are not used for longer than necessary. This process is what separates endocannabinoids from other molecular signals like hormones or neurotransmitters, which can be stored in the body.

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