Recently the world has seen plenty of progress when it comes to the legalization of cannabis. This “cultural awakening” on the perception of cannabis has also meant a substantial increase in medical research into cannabinoids and how they can treat a variety of illnesses. Despite society knowing more about cannabis and its medicinal properties, many still don’t understand how a cannabinoid becomes a pharmaceutical drug which can be used to treat disease.
According to Greenstate, Cannabinoids are active chemical ingredients that provide a lot of the plant’s medicinal properties. The cannabinoids that researchers most are familiar with are cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), although there are many other cannabinoids. In fact, we currently know of at least 113 unique cannabinoids which have been isolated from the cannabis plant. There is still much to learn about the beneficial properties of these cannabinoids and how certain combinations (along with other compounds found in cannabis such as terpenes and flavonoids – see “entourage effect“) may play a role in combating disease.
THC has psychoactive properties which can give you a high but also has many medicinal uses, including being a powerful anti-nausea medication. On the other hand, CBD will not give you a high (and actually may counteract cognitive impairment associated with THC as they both compete for the same cannabinoid receptors) but has many benefits ranging such as chronic pain relief and anti-anxiety, among others.
The Pharmaceutical Process
Since the 1970’s medical researchers have been interested in the medicinal properties of cannabinoids. Using a process known as rational drug design, scientists actually experiment with the cannabinoids produce a more therapeutic compound.
There are three steps to rational drug design:
First researchers look for a receptor or enzyme for the disease that they are researching the drug for.
Once that has been established, they try to understand the structure of the receptor or enzyme.
In the last step, scientists try to create a molecule which will react to the receptor or enzyme in a way that will produce therapeutic results.
Humans actually have many cannabinoid receptors and an endocannabinoid system which is one reason cannabis is such a fascinating plant to study for clinical treatment.
In the book Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, the authors detail how once a target has been established researchers begin development. In the development stage, the compounds that are found to have promise are then moved on to further testing, which will eventually include human trials and then submitted for approval by the FDA. Once approved, companies can then begin manufacturing and delivering to consumers as a pharmaceutical drug.