The secrets of how THC worked in
the body lay hidden until the late 1980s,
when researchers working with rats
found that the compound binds to a protein that pops up on the surface of nerve
cells. Further tests showed that THC also
hooks up with another protein found
elsewhere in the body. These receptor
proteins were dubbed CB1 and CB2.
A bigger revelation came in 1992:
Mammals make their own compound
that binds to, and switches on, the CB1
receptor. Scientists named the compound anandamide. Researchers soon
found its counterpart that binds mainly
to the CB2 receptor, calling that one 2AG,
for 2-arachidonyl glycerol. The body routinely makes these compounds, called
endocannabinoids, and sends them into
action as needed.
“At that point, this became a very, very
respectable field,” says Mechoulam,
now at Hebrew University of Jerusa-
lem, who along with Pertwee and oth-
ers reported the anandamide discovery
in Science. “THC just mimics the effects
of these compounds in our bodies,”
Mechoulam says. Although the recep-
tors are abundant, anandamide and
2AG are short-acting compounds, so
their effects are fleeting.
From a biological
smoking pot to
get high is like
starting up a
semitruck just to
listen to the radio.
There’s a lot more
Beyond the pain
Today smoked cannabis is a sanctioned self-treatment for verifiable
medical conditions in 14
U.S. states, Canada, the
Netherlands and Israel,
among other places. It
usually requires a doctor’s recommendation
and some paperwork.
People smoke the drug to alleviate
pain, sleep easier and deal with nausea, lack of appetite and mood disorders
such as anxiety, stress and depression.
Patients not wanting to smoke cannabis can seek out prescriptions for FDA-approved capsules containing cannabis
Sanctioned smoking though smoked cannabis has not been approved by the food and Drug administration, its use for medical purposes has
been sanctioned by law in 14 states (shown in green, year given). Different states apply their own restrictions, some of which are highlighted.
washington allows marijuana’s use for the broadest
range of ailments, including
multiple sclerosis, crohn’s
disease and anorexia. but
in most cases the drug can
be used only if the condition is resistant to conventional medical therapy.
each state places its own
limits on the quantity of
marijuana a patient can
possess. montana allows
1 ounce of dry marijuana
and no more than six plants.
while most states sanctioning medical marijuana
allow for its use in treating
cancer, glaucoma, hiv-aiDs,
chronic pain and severe
nausea, michigan adds
hepatitis c, alzheimer’s
disease and amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis to the list.
while allowing medicinal
marijuana’s use for glaucoma and muscle spasms,
maine limits its use for
other conditions, including
wasting syndrome, nausea
and appetite loss, to symptoms related specifically to
hiv-aiDs and cancer.
kelly ann mccann; source: D.e. hoffmann anD e. weber/nejm 2010
the first state to pass a
medical marijuana law is
the only state in which dis-pensaries are established
by law. it is also the only
state to permit medical
marijuana use for arthritis
Rhode Island, 2006
New Jersey, 2010
new jersey allows marijuana use for often-permit-ted conditions —cancer
and hiv-aiDs — and adds
permission for patients in
hospice care or those facing terminal illness.
New Mexico, 2007
june 19, 2010 | science news | 17