The endocannabinoid system


The human body has specific cannabinoid receptors on the surface of many cell types, and our body produces different endocannabinoids, derivates of fatty acids which bind to and activate those cannabinoid receptors (CB).

CB-receptors and endocannabinoids together form the endocannabinoid system. Some phytocannabinoids, cannabinoids from the cannabis plant and a multitude of synthetic manufactured cannabinoids imitate the effect of endocannabinoids. Δ9-THC (dronabinol), the pharmacologically most effective cannabinoid from the cannabis plant binds to both known cannabinoid receptors: the CB1- and the CB2-receptor. These receptors have been detected in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and in many peripheral tissues and organs. Depending on the cell type and the state of health, the activation of the CB-receptors causes different effects, for example: euphoria, states of panic, dry mucous membrane, muscle relaxation, hunger or pain abating effects. Beside the studies about the activation of the CB-receptors, there are various attempts to influence the cannabinoid system in a therapeutic way, including examinations of blocking the CB-receptors (antagonism) and studies adjusting the concentration of endocannabinoids by inhibiting their decomposition. At present, there are several medications stimulating the CB-receptors (dronabinol, nabilon and cannabis) and a medication blocking the CB1-receptor (rimonabant) in medical use.

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Franjo Grotenhermen
nova-Institut, Goldenbergstraße 2, D-50354 Huerth, Germany