How chemicals in cannabis interacts with the brain
Cannabis and the Entourage Effect
Raphael Mechoulam, a heavily decorated scientist determined the structure of cannabidiol (CBD) in 1963, an important component of cannabis. A year later, he became the first person to isolate delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Over the ensuing decades, Mechoulam and his team continued to isolate numerous compounds from the cannabis plant.
In 1999, Mechoulam wrote a paper describing something known as “the entourage effect.”
Think of it like this: There are more than 480 natural components found within the cannabis plant, of which 66 have been classified as “cannabinoids.” Those are chemicals unique to the plant, including delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiols. There are, however, many more, including:
— Cannabigerols (CBG)
— Cannabichromenes (CBC)
— other Cannabidiols (CBD)
— other Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC)
— Cannabinol (CBN) and cannabinodiol (CBDL)
— other cannabinoids (such as cannabicyclol (CBL), cannabielsoin (CBE), cannabitriol (CBT) and other miscellaneous types).
Other constituents of the cannabis plant are: nitrogenous compounds (27 known), amino acids (18), proteins (3), glycoproteins (6), enzymes (2), sugars and related compounds (34), hydrocarbons (50), simple alcohols (7), aldehydes (13), ketones (13), simple acids (21), fatty acids (22), simple esters (12), lactones (1), steroids (11), terpenes (120), non-cannabinoid phenols (25), flavonoids (21), vitamins (1), pigments (2), and other elements (9).
Mechoulam, along with many others, said he believes all these components of the cannabis plant likely exert some therapeutic effect, more than any single compound alone.
While science has not yet shown the exact role or mechanism for all these various compounds, evidence is mounting that these compounds work better together than in isolation: That is the “entourage effect.”
Isolating Compounds of Medical Cannabis
To better understand the concept of the entourage effect, Dr. Sanjay Gupta traveled to the secret labs of GW Pharmaceuticals, outside London. In developing Sativex, a cannabis-based drug to treat multiple sclerosis, the company’s chairman, Dr. Geoffrey Guy, told Gupta that the company ran into some obstacles.
More than a decade of experiments revealed that a whole plant extract, bred to contain roughly the same amounts of THC and CBD in addition to the other components in the plant, was more effective in reducing the pain and spasms of MS than a medication made of a single compound.
It could be that multiple individual compounds play a role, or it could be due to their interaction in the body; it could also be combination of both, Guy said.
Now, maybe this all sounds obvious. After all, eating real fruits, vegetables and other plants provides better nutrition than just taking vitamin pills with one nutrient or mineral in each. Science is showing us that we can likely say the same about cannabis.
Unlike other drugs that may work well as single compounds, synthesized in a lab, cannabis may offer its most profound benefit as a whole plant, if we let the entourage effect flower, as Mechoulam suggested more than a decade ago.