By: Cecil King
Missouri’s Cannabis Science Connection
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) recent decision to take no action on rescheduling cannabis is considered a gross dereliction of duty by many cannabis activists in Missouri and across the U.S.
Regardless of the DEA’s stance that marijuana has no medical value, prohibition over the years has inadvertently led to some of the most astounding scientific discoveries about brain chemistry and function of our time.
The very nature of scientific inquiry will produce “discoveries” in spite of any political agenda the National Institute on Drug Abuse promotes to researchers.
In 1988, two Missouri researchers at the St. Louis University School of Medicine found receptor sites in the mammalian brain that respond pharmacologically to the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compound in the cannabis plant. Dr. Allyn Howlett, Ph.D. and William Devane, Ph.D. candidate, discovered the CB1 receptor. Their research was government-funded.
Four years later in 1992, Dr. Devane, now a National Institute of Mental Health Research Fellow, along with Dr. Raphael Mechoulam who discovered THC in 1964, and researcher Dr. Lumir Hanus, found another naturally occurring neurotransmitter that binds to the CB1 receptor. The human body is now known to create its own internal “THC” type molecules.
Dr. Devane offered to name the neurotransmitter anandamide, a word derived from Sanskrit meaning bliss. The research team all agreed to adopted it. Anandamide plays a role regulating feeding behavior, and the neural generation of motivation and pleasure.
One year later in 1993, a Cambridge group discovered another receptor in the brain. This receptor is prevalent throughout the body’s immune system and the peripheral nervous system. The new receptor, “CB2”, is found in the gut, spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands and reproductive organs.
By 1995, the biological elements of a new brain signaling system had emerged from the research of many dedicated scientists studying a prohibited plant with funding from a government that officially says it has no medical value.
Mechoulam’s group in 1995 discovered a second major endocannabinoid in the brain, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) that locks on to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
Scientists stumbled upon a previously unknown molecular signaling system involved in a broad range of biological functions in the human body. They named it “the endocannabinoid system” after the cannabis plant that led to its discovery.
Drs. Howlett and Devane have long left Missouri for greener “research” pastures. Missourians may also hope that other gound-breaking cannabinoid research hasn’t left the state too. Continued federal and state cannabis prohibition, combined with the DEA’s anti-science attitude, offers an easier path for researchers to work outside the U.S. on cannabinoid therapies.
International research into the functions of the endocannabinoid system have accelerated since the late 1990s. A new German scientific study released May 2, 2016 reveals a brand-new function of the CB2 receptor.
Scientists at the Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Charité Medical University Berlin, again, with funding by U.S. taxpayers through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that the “cannabinoid type 2 receptor” influences information processing inside the hippocampus.
“Until now, this receptor was considered part of the immune system without function in nerve cells. However, our study shows that it also plays an important role in the signal processing of the brain,” says Professor Dietmar Schmitz, Director of the Neuroscience Research Center of the Charité.
This area of the brain plays a crucial role in the generation of long-term memories and might help advance our understanding of schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Missourians thank the German scientists for their work, but wouldn’t it be great to bring some of this research back to Missouri?