Let’s take a closer look at how the molecular method can be used to discover the specific combinations of cannabis compounds beneficial in the treatment of certain medical indications such as inflammatory bowel disease, skin cancer, and colon cancer.
Over the last decade, cannabis as a medicine has become a more frequent topic of discussion. Many people initially thought it was all B.S., primarily because there were no legitimate, large-scale studies going on in the United States that one could refer to. However, in other parts of the world, namely Israel, cannabinoids have been an important research subject for the last 60 years.
And what have they discovered over in six decades, you may be asking? Well, as it turns out, cannabis is one of the most powerful medicinal plants on Earth – one that can be used to treat everything from anxiety, to pain and nausea, to even certain types of cancer. What else are the scientists saying?
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Chatting with an expert
To give you a better idea of the depth at which cannabis is being studied, we included some experts from an interview with Professor Hinanit Koltai of Israel’s Volcani Research Institute, just outside of Tel Aviv. Volcani is a government funded institute focusing on agricultural research, innovation, and molecular plant science. This interview was conducted by Heli Dangur & Narkis Tessler from CannaCAST IL.
“What combinations of cannabis compounds are the beneficial ones for the treatment of different medical indications (such as inflammation and cancer)?” begins Prof. Kolati. “For that, we combined deep chemical analysis in such a way that we could see each and every molecule present in cannabis extracts. We started to work on inflammatory bowel diseases, skin diseases, and even colon cancer and inflammation of colon polyps. We were able to identify and isolate the actual composition of molecules from cannabis which act, even synergistically, to treat those different medical indications.”
“We are looking first at the molecules on the plant, and looking at each and every molecule”, she continued. “But we do not stop there. Rather, we ask, what is happening in the human cells and human tissues once they have been treated by this certain API formulation from cannabis? What genes and pathways are activated or repressed by this treatment? And by that we are looking not just at the plant, but also at the human body, and human cells and tissues and we allocate a mode of action of these cannabis compounds.”
Researcher from Volcani collaborate with numerous healthcare professionals including doctors/physicians, hospitals, pharmacists, and specialty practitioners. Who they collaborate with at any given time depends on the specific medical indication that’s being studied.
THC in the human body
Tetrahydrocannabinol, more simply known as THC, is the most dominant cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, and it’s also the one with psychoactive effects. Because of this, cannabis flower and products containing more than trace amounts of THC are federally prohibited. THC is much more complex than just a substance that gets you high though, it has a myriad of health benefits – including pain relief, brain regeneration, sleep aid, and PTSD treatment – that are hard to find in most other natural compounds.
To understand why THC works for such a seemingly random combination of medical conditions, you will have to look deep within the human body at the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is a network of receptors that can be found throughout the bodies of all mammals. Plant based cannabinoids, known as Phytocannabinoids, only work because our bodies already create natural cannabinoids, or Endocannabinoids, and the receptors that interact with them. The ESC is believe to have a prominent role in regulating many different processes in our bodies, as well as maintaining homeostasis.
So far, researchers have been able to identify two separate endocannabinoids: 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and anandamide (AEA), as well as two main receptors: CB1 and CB2. 2-AG is a full agonist of both the CB1 and CB2 receptors but it has a more direct association with the CB2 receptor. Because of this, 2-AG is thought to have a substantial influence over the immune system.
THC is the only major cannabinoid that directly activates both the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain – even CBD (cannabidiol), which has become mainstream for it’s well-publicized medical benefits – does not. Other compounds can actually interfere with the way THC impacts the CB receptors, which is precisely why dosing and ratios (THC:CBD) are incredibly pertinent when it comes to successfully using cannabis-based therapies.
A closer look at CBD
Cannabidiol (CBD), is well known for being a full-on, therapeutic powerhouse. And it’s true, CBD can certainly be used on a wide range of conditions including epilepsy, anxiety, and inflammation. However, unlike THC, CBD only communicates indirectly with the CB receptors in our brains. CBD works by targeting numerous other systems. For example, CBD’s connection with the serotonin system helps reduce anxiety, which CBD’s activation of the TRPV1 receptor is the reason why it works for pain.
More recently discovered is a target called the G-protein Coupled Receptor 55, or GPR55. This is another receptor that cannabis compounds, including CBD, bind to. GPR55 appears to be a major factor in much of the pharmacology related to cannabis, including CBD’s actions in preventing seizures and fighting tumors.
To summarize, the most frequently cited uses for CBD are: anxiety, pain, inflammation, seizure control, and addiction management. Motivational disorders like addiction and anxiety are incredibly complicated and hard to understand as they impact quite a few receptor systems and neural pathways all at once. Over the coming years, we can expect that researchers will continue to further study these complexities to discover the full scope of CBD’s therapeutic effects within the body.
Treating cancer with cannabis
Throughout the world, most people’s lives have been affected by cancer in some way, whether they had it or they know someone who does or did. In the United States alone, roughly 1.8 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year. The most common diagnosis is breast cancer, which affects close to 277,000 women each ear. Cancer is also the most common cause of death in Canada, accounting for nearly 30% of the overall death rate. Treatment options include radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery – all of which carry some potentially dangerous and long-lasting side effects.
It seems like a stretch at first, but more research is coming to the surface describing cannabis compound’s ability to fight cancerous tumors. Take the most recent study on this topic, published March 31, 2020 in the Oncotarget medical journal, where they found that numerous cannabinoids – CBD and THC, as well as CBC (cannabichromene) and CBN (cannabinol) – can cause cell death in certain tumors.
As per the study, “Treatment with the synergistic combination of the active fractions led to apoptotic cell death in My-La and HuT-78 cell lines. Moreover, the synergistic treatment also led to apoptosis in SPBL, which was significantly selective to the malignant enriched cell population within the SPBL, further implicating possible therapeutic use. Indeed, a prevalent effect of cannabinoids on cancer cells is the induction of death by apoptosis and the inhibition of cancer cell proliferation . For example, THC was previously demonstrated to induce the apoptotic death of cancerous glioma cells via CB1 and CB2 receptors.”
Additionally, a cannabis-based treatment for cancer might actually be within reach, thanks to the ongoing work of medical cannabis pioneer, Professor Raphael Mechoulam. Mechoulam, who is currently head of the Cannabinoids Research Multidisciplinary Center at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is leading a research team aimed at developing cannabis-based treatments for three aggressive forms of cancer: melanoma (skin cancer), neuroblastoma (cancer originating in the surrounding and mostly neural system in children), and glaublastoma (brain cancer).
As usual, I’m once again amazed at the sheer magnitude of this plant’s healing abilities. Not only can it be used in the treatment of so many different medical indications, it’s also safe, non-addictive, and generally speaking, has very minimal side effects. Once the science here in the U.S. begins to catch up, we can anticipate the introduction of new and innovative cannabis-based therapies.
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