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Category: Science

Scientific Focus: The Endocannabinoid System

Did you know that you have an endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system was initially discovered in the late 1980s when scientist studied how THC and other cannabinoids interact. Cannabis can function efficiently in mammal’s due to a series of receptors in the pathways of the brain called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).


Cannabinoids bind with the endocannabinoid
receptors, creating medical effects
by suppressing signals
such as pain, nausea and depression
while boosting appetite and euphoria.


It was discovered that humans are designed to interact with cannabinoids through the ECS which consist of CB1 and CB2 receptors. Cannabinoids and terpenes are delivered to the bloodstream either through the lungs (when inhaled), the digestive system (when consumed) or the skin (when applied topically). From the blood stream, cannabinoids become available to the central nervous system through the CB1 receptors and the immune system through CB2 receptors.

These receptors influence the flow of chemical signals to the brain and digestive system. Cannabinoids bind with the endocannabinoid receptors, creating medical effects by suppressing signals such as pain, nausea and depression while boosting appetite and euphoria. Cannabis use effects the neurotransmitter GABA by blocking it. The result is increasing dopamine levels which GABA normally inhibits or regulates. Dopamine offers a mood shift of reward for the brain that is released with sex, exercise, appetite, learning, sleep, movement and mood.

Cannabis effects the cannabinoid receptors, namely CB1 and CB2 that mimic a naturally created endogenous molecule, anandamide. Anandamide is an Omega 6 fatty acid that regulates appetite, cognition, emotion, memory, mood and pain. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabinoids found in cannabis can affect anandamide and therefore effect the endocannabinoid central nervous system.

The most exciting and promising lines of research into the role of the endocannabinoid system is in the regulation of inflammation and the immune system. Clinical evidence has shown the effectiveness of endocannabinoids on treating epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms and other neuromuscular system disorders.

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Researchers Identify Genes that Produce Terpenes in Cannabis Plants


University of British Columbia researchers published a study finding 30 terpene synthase genes that contribute to different scents and flavors in cannabis. Such genes facilitate the production of terpenes like limonene, myrcene and pinene in the cannabis plant.

Researchers also found the gene that produces one of the most common essential oils of cannabis, beta-caryophyllene. Cannabis inflorescences, the complete flower head and stem, are known to be densely covered in granular trichomes, these trichomes are specialized to produce and accumulate terpenes. The discovery of these genes may be a step toward facilitating genetic improvements of cannabis to create more desirable terpene profiles in certain strains.

Considering that cannabis has been domesticated by breeders for increased resin volume and potency, it is possible that this led to a decrease in the quantity or variability of terpenes available in mainstream cannabis strains. The researchers pointed out the importance of examining how terpene compounds interact with the different cannabinoids that provide medicinal properties of cannabis.

Compassionate Sciences ATC grows 23 different strains, each of which encompasses a distinct terpene profile.

Click to Learn about CSATC strains.

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National Academy of Sciences Acknowledges Medicinal Benefits of Cannabis

CannabisCoverFinalOn January 12, 2017 The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published one of the most comprehensive reports of recent research regarding the health effects of cannabis. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research produced nearly 100 conclusions based off scientific evidence, and in certain cases finding “conclusive or substantial evidence” of the therapeutic effects of cannabis. At the top of the list, the study found conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabinoids are effective for the treatment of chronic pain in adults. Chronic pain is a qualifying condition for New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Program only if it’s a symptom of cancer or HIV/AIDS.

Although chronic pain is currently limited to these restrictions, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, lupus and Lyme disease are of the 45 conditions that the Medicinal Medical Review Panel is set to consider as additional qualifying conditions.

Other conditions that the Academies’ report found cannabis effective for are chemotherapy-induced nausea/vomiting and improving patient reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms.

The report also found moderate evidence of effective cannabinoid treatment for improving short-term sleep outcomes related to sleep apnea syndrome, fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis. Limited evidence showed cannabinoids to be effective for improving symptoms of Tourette syndrome, symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

In terms of cancer, the report showed evidence suggesting that cannabis smoke doesn’t increase the risk for cancers that are often associated with tobacco use.

The National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide objective guidance for policy makers through scientific evidence.

The issue of cannabis and health has been brushed aside by the National Academies since 1999, but substantial effort was put into this report with over 10,000 scientific abstracts reviewed in preparation.

Acknowledgements were made in the report that potential harm from cannabis may be noted related to risks for adolescents, pregnant women and those who operate motor vehicles shortly after ingesting cannabis. National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) says, “In each of these cases, these risks may be mitigated via marijuana regulation and the imposition of age restrictions in the marketplace.”

The committee that authored the report recommended more research to be done on the beneficial and harmful effects of cannabis, and emphasized the drug’s classification as a Schedule I substance being a barrier impeding such research.

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Introduction to Terpenes

TerpenesThe cannabis plant consists of a wide variety of chemicals and compounds. About 140 of these belong to a large class of aromatic organic hydrocarbons known as terpenes (pronounced tur-peens). You may have also heard people talk about terpenoids. The words terpene and terpenoid are increasingly used interchangeably, although these terms do have different meanings. The main difference between terpenes and terpenoids is that terpenes are hydrocarbons (meaning the only elements present are carbon and hydrogen); whereas, terpenoids have been denatured by oxidation (drying and curing the flowers) or chemically modified.

Terpenes are synthesized in cannabis in secretory cells inside glandular trichomes, and production is increased with light exposure. These terpenes are mostly found in high concentrations in unfertilized female cannabis flowers prior to senescence (the condition or process of deterioration with age). The essential oil is extracted from the plant material by steam distillation or vaporization. Many terpenes vaporize around the same temperature as THC (which boils at about 157°C), but some terpenes are more volatile than others. Terpenes also play an incredibly important role by providing the plant with natural protection from bacteria and fungus, insects and other environmental stresses.

It is well established that cannabis is capable of affecting the mind, emotions and behavior. The main psychotropic cannabinoid, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been intensely studied. However, many of the other cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids found in medical marijuana that play a big role in boosting the therapeutic effect of cannabis remain understudied.

Terpenes are common constituents of flavorings and fragrances. Terpenes, unlike cannabinoids, are responsible for the aroma of cannabis. The FDA and other agencies have generally recognized terpenes as “safe.” Terpenes act on receptors and neurotransmitters; they are prone to combine with or dissolve in lipids or fats; they act as serotonin uptake inhibitors (similar to antidepressants like Prozac); they enhance norepinephrine activity (similar to tricyclic antidepressants like Elavil); they increase dopamine activity; and they augment GABA (the “downer” neurotransmitter that counters glutamate, the “upper”). However, more specific research is needed for improved accuracy in describing and predicting how terpenes in cannabis can be used medicinally to help treat specific ailments / health conditions.


Want to learn more about Terpenes and how they assist in the medical benefits of Cannabis? Click to learn more


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