The biochemistry of cannabis is an exciting and complex subject. Research continues into the properties of the many different cannabinoids produced by various varieties of the cannabis plant and the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum follows all new discoveries with interest. This section presents a basic overview of how the active components in cannabis interact with the human body.
Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
Cannabis naturally produces a number of cannabinoids, perhaps up to 60, though little is known about the majority of them. The most common and powerful cannabinoids – therefore the best known and most widely studied of them – are tetrahydracannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN).
The human brain produces a neurotransmitter known as anandamide which also belongs to the cannabinoid group. Receptors for anandamide are found throughout the human body - in the nervous system, gut, organs and especially in the brain. The collective name for this network is the endocannabinoid system.
Because of this system, the cannabinoids contained in cannabis are able to bind to the endocannabinoid receptors present in the human body. This action is the basis of all the psychoactive and most of the medicinal benefits of cannabis.
Natural Cannabis Versus Synthesised Cannabinoids
Cannabis provided medical and therapeutic benefits for thousands of years before its active principles were identified or isolated. The precise ratios of active ingredients in any given sample of natural cannabis may vary or represent an unknown factor, but it does not follow that this represents a danger to users of natural cannabis. On the contrary, the use of natural cannabis over such a long period without any evidence of toxic side-effects strongly indicates that this is not the case.
Furthermore, while it is necessary to isolate and synthesise cannabinoids in order to study them, this does not mean that isolated or synthesised cannabinoids are the best forms of cannabis medicine to administer to patients.
There is evidence that ingesting cannabis in its natural form can impart a greater range of therapeutic benefits than isolated cannabinoids, most likely because of the unknown factor represented by the various cannabinoids and other substances in the plant.