It is likely that you have never heard of the work of organic chemist Raphael Mechoulam, PhD. And that is because the research he was doing was illegal in the United States. Regardless, Raphael and his team we trying to figure out why people got “high” when they smoked marijuana. In 1964, he and his colleagues finally hit the jackpot, when they successfully isolated THC in their Hebrew University lab in Jerusalem.
THC, as almost everyone knows, is the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis sativa. But that discovery was only the beginning, as they still did not know how THC worked, nor did they know where.
Those answers took twenty more years for Allyn Howlett and her colleagues at St. Louis University to find. Allyn eventually figured out that THC attaches to unique receptor sites in the body, now called CB1 sites.
The discovery of the CB1 receptor site, then led to the question: Why is there a receptor site in the body designed to associate with THC? And that answer soon came in the form of yet another discovery: Our bodies make special neurochemicals which specifically fit into these sites…and that there is another one called CB2.
These newly discovered neuroreceptors were found to work like dopamine receptors function in the dopamine system, and how serotonin receptors function within the serotonin system. And because Dr. Mechoulam had discovered THC in the cannabis plant, these newly discovered endogenous neurochemicals were given the name “endocannobidinoids.”
Soon thereafter, researchers found that there were over 100 phytocannabidinoids in cannabis, all with varying degrees of functionality, and some with no known purpose -at least in humans- as they do not interact with any of our neuroreceptor sites.
Dr. Mechoulam continued on with his research directly and indirectly through his graduate students, and eventually discovered a second major phytocannabidinoid in cannabis which has a number of unique influences on the human body. He named this compound cannabidiol, or CBD for short.
CBD does not attach to either CB1 or CB2 receptor sites, but instead facilitates the optimal functioning of those and several other neuroreceptor sites throughout the body.
Over the next few weeks, I will explore with you in brief segments, how CBD works and how the growing knowledge of the endicannabinoid system – a separate neurochemical system we did not even know existed within the body until around 1990 – will be changing the practice of medicine forever.
Paul A. Henny, DDS