In Belgium, we are 11 million cannabinoid producers!
Cannabis contains many active substances. Some have proven therapeutic virtues, others are being studied. Focus on a plant that is of increasing interest to researchers.
Cannabis is much more than a drug. Of course, the marijuana variety is consumed for its high content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a cannabinoid with psychotropic effects. For this reason, its cultivation and marketing are prohibited. But hemp, which contains much less THC and is completely legal (1), is also part of the Cannabis sativa species.
Moreover, THC is far from being the only active substance in Cannabis sativa. In fact, the species contains about a hundred cannabinoids, in varying proportions depending on the variety:
Although cannabinoids get their name, they are not unique to cannabis. These chemical molecules are found in other plants, but also in mammals and humans. Moreover, our body produces them naturally. These are called endocannabinoids.
A molecule is said to be cannabinoid when it binds and interacts with cannabinoid receptors present in certain types of cells.
As a reminder, every cell has receptors on its surface. These receptors work like locks. If the right "key" (a ligand) is inserted into them, the cell will be able to use them. (a ligand) into the receptor and a system will (un)lock and produce one or another reaction.
There are at least 2 types of cannabinoid receptors in our body:
CB1 receptors are found mainly in the brain and nervous system.
CB2 receptors are concentrated in the immune system and cells.
Receptors, endocannabinoids and enzymes (2) form the so-called endocannabinoid system (SEC). The functions of this biochemical system have not yet been fully elucidated. Scientists believe that the ECS serves to balance many other systems (nervous, immune, digestive, neuronal, etc.). This would explain the physiological effects of certain exogenous cannabinoids (3) on our health.
Cannabinoids have proven therapeutic properties.
In Belgium, for example, two prescription-only medicines are already available:
One is used to treat moderate to severe spasms due to multiple sclerosis.
The other, which contains CBD, is intended to treat certain severe epilepsy in children.
In short, cannabinoids are far from having revealed all their secrets! Although many studies are underway, more research is needed to better understand their mechanisms of action. And to exploit the therapeutic virtues of a plant long underestimated.
(1 ) Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC.
(2) An enzyme is a protein that facilitates a biochemical reaction.
(3) Exogenous means "produced outside the body". As opposed to "endogenous", produced within the body.
Devane, W.A. et al, "Isolation and structure of a brain constituent that binds to the cannabinoid receptor," in Science, 1992.
Fezza, F. et al, "Endocannabinoids, related compounds and their metabolic routes" in Molecules, 2014.
Chakravarti B et al, "Cannabinoids as therapeutic agents in cancer: current status and future implications" in Oncotarget, 2014.