Cannabinoids: Plants and medicine have come around like never before. With more research taking place and more information coming to the medical field, there are now more options for ailments, conditions, diseases and disorders. Chiropractor, Dr. Alex Jimenez analyzes the data and brings insight to these developing medicines and treatments. How they can help patients, what can they do and what can’t they do?
Most associate cannabinoids with the marijuana plant. This is the most recognized cannabinoid compound – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is what causes feelings of euphoria.
However, scientists have identified cannabinoids in many plants, which include black pepper, broccoli, carrots, clove, echinacea, and ginseng. None of these will get you high. But with an understanding of how the cannabinoids in these various plants affect the human body can create a path to important health discoveries.
Plants Are Medicine
Many modern drugs were developed through plant research. Researching compounds in these plants led to discovering life saving drugs and furthered the knowledge of how the human body functions. An example is the foxglove plant, which gave us digoxin and digitoxin. Two very important heart medications.1
Humans have been especially resourceful when finding plants for pleasure or to decrease pain.
Caffeine provides energy, while nicotine from tobacco stimulates and relaxes. This explains why tobacco is still popular even though we know the health risks of smoking.2
Pain-Relieving Drugs & Their Origin
In ancient times, medical practitioners drank tea made from willow tree, in order to reduce fever and pain. It took hundreds of years for scientists to find and isolate the active compound, which is salicylic acid. This led to the discovery of aspirin and from there, it evolved into inflammation reduction.4
Coca plant leaves were used by the Incan’s in South America. It was used to treat headaches, wounds, and fractures. However, the coca plant also brought about cocaine. But is an effective anesthetic. To have an understanding of how cocaine blocks pain has created common anesthetics like lidocaine, which is used in dental procedures.5
Scientists studying opium from the poppy plant, have discovered opiate receptors in the human body and how they manage pain. This led to morphine, codeine, and other opiate based medications.3
Human Health & Cannabis
Cannabis has been used for centuries. Chinese text from the year A.D. 1 has recorded the use of hemp in treating over 100 ailments, which date back to 2737 B.C.6 After this, the tops of the cannabis plant were cultivated for their psychoactive attributes. While this was happening a different strain of the plant was grown for industrial hemp use, in making clothing, paper, biofuels, foods, and other products.
Based on the controversy surrounding marijuana, it has not been easy for researchers to study the effects of the non-THC components in cannabis. THC was identified in the 1940’s, but it was not until 50 years later that research revealed humans (and almost all animals) have a system of cannabinoid receptors.
Humans make cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) and they act on these receptors.7
This system is called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is involved in multiple processes, which include:
- Pain Sensation
Ever hit your toe, digest a piece of fruit or forget a password? Then the ECS was involved.
Discovery of the ECS along with the natural compounds identified in cannabis helped science and medicine. Researchers called these compounds phytocannabinoids, from the prefix “phyto” for plant. Over 80 phytocannabinoids have now been discovered in marijuana and hemp. THC is just one of the many compounds being studied for their health benefits.8
Cannabis & THC Moving Forward
Now that many plants are known to contain these compounds, phytocannabinoids are no longer just associated with cannabis.9 Chances are you have some source of phytocannabinoids in your diet right now.
Remember it could be just a small amount, and not all phytocannabinoids interact strongly with the ECS.
How Far Has This Research Developed?
Current research shows that some of the phytocannabinoids in hemp, clove, and black pepper can support the ECS to promote relaxation, decrease nerve discomfort, and improve digestive health. And as these compounds do not contain THC there is no mind-altering effects. Therefore, the option of using phytocannabinoids for health benefits, without feeling the psychoactive effects is definitely something to look forward to.10
- Gurib-Fakim A. Medicinal plants: traditions of yesterday and drugs of tomorrow. Mol Aspects Med 2006;27(1):1-93.
- Singh Y, Blumenthal M. Kava: an overview. Distribution, mythology, botany, culture, chemistry and pharmacology of the South Pacific’s most revered herb. Herbalgram 1997;39(suppl):34-56.
- Brownstein M. A brief history of opiates, opioid peptides, and opioid receptors. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1993;90(12):5391-5393.
- Vainio H, Gareth M. Aspirin for the second hundred years: new uses for an old drug. Pharmacol Toxicol 1997;81(4):151-152.
- Ruetsch Y, Thomas B, Alain B. From cocaine to ropivacaine: the history of local anesthetic drugs. Curr Top Med Chem 2001;1(3):175-182.
- http://www.thenorthwestleaf.com/pages/articles/post/traditional-chinese-medicine-how-marijuana-has-been-used-for-centuries [Accessed April 16, 2018].
- Pertwee R. Cannabinoid pharmacology: the first 66 years. Br J Pharmacol 2006;147(Supp 1):163-171.
- Borgelt L, Franson K, Nussbaum A, Wang G. The pharmacologic and clinical effects of medical cannabis. Pharmacotherapy 2013;33(2):195-209.
- Gertsch J, Roger G, Vincenzo D. Phytocannabinoids beyond the Cannabis plant – do they exist? Br J Pharmacol 2010;160(3):523-529.
- Russo E. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid?terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol 2011;163(7):1344-1364.