We have known for a while that being high is the result of what occurs in a single cellular structure known as cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), and we know that our bodies produce their own endocannabinoids, which modulate our appetite, mood, memory, pain, etc.
They can even produce something akin to a runners’ high, or vice versa.
This CB1 receptor, which THC binds to, stimulates the cells to release an abundance of chemical signals. Hence, everyone’s list of stoned benefits is unique!
For a long time, scientists thought CB1 receptors worked like “lock and key with THC and its chemical cousins—one size fits one,” explained Wired.
But now, new research shows that CB1 receptors are actually mobile, malleable and can stretch to fit a wider range of molecules.
“People have been using cannabis for a variety of therapeutic indications for centuries,” writes Alexandros Makriyannis, director of Northeastern University’s Center for Drug Discovery. He is the co-author of new research on CB1 receptors, recently published in Nature.
CB1 receptors are spirals of amino acids that weave in and out of a cell’s membrane and are very flexible. When a cannabinoid goes into the receptor, the spirals—called helices—coalesce around that receptor’s binding site.
The big surprise came when Makriyannis’ group crystallized CB1 as it was binding to the THC-like molecules.
This info can be useful as researchers are attempting to understand and develop chemicals that mimic the desirable and medical effects of cannabis.
Makriyannis called this a breakthrough for his work, and said he’ll keep looking for new cannabinoid molecules.
“We want to make compounds that will modify the receptor differently,” he explained, “so we can make better drugs.”
Cannabinoid receptors are such promising therapeutic targets that numerous researchers persist in studying them in the hope of creating even more finely-tuned molecules that will trigger CB1 to send anti-nausea signals to the body, without things like irritability, anxiety or addiction.
Makriyannis and his co-authors will present more of their work at the 2017 Chemistry and Pharmacology of Drug Abuse Symposium in August at Northeastern University.