How Weed Works

Marijuana plantK.M. Cholewa explains the chemistry behind medical marijuana that got Sanjay Gupta and others to finally believe, for Salon:

Last week, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta grabbed headlines for coming out in support of the validity of the medical use of marijuana, something he had opposed in the past. What changed his mind? Science.

Here’s what he — and those studying the chemistry of marijuana — now understand.

Marijuana makes chemical contact with human bodies through cannabinoids, which are chemical compounds in marijuana (cannabis). The human body also creates cannabinoids. The body creates cannabinoids on-demand, such as when they are produced to serve as neuroprotectants when the brain’s nerve cells begin to fire too much, as in the case of stress, seizures or an impact to the brain. Our bodies also have cannabinoid receptors. Together, the cannabinoids and their receptors make up the human cannabinoid system.

Just as there was a time when we didn’t know we had immune systems or hormonal systems, until 1988 we didn’t know that we had cannabinoid systems.

The human body produces and utilizes its own cannabinoids, but the body can also utilize cannabinoids from external sources. One source of exogenous cannabinoids is marijuana, or to use marijuana’s botanical name, cannabis. Because these cannabinoids are plant-based, they would be considered phytocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids from marijuana fit nicely into human cannabinoid receptors. Thus, the cannabinoids from the cannabis plant can be utilized by the human cannabinoid system.

Any woman who has had a hot flash can find an analogy in the hormone estrogen. As the process of menopause ensues, a woman’s estrogen level drops. Many women seek to balance their hormonal systems by taking in plant-based estrogens, phytoestrogens, such as soy or yams.

Other women, during menopause, seek to balance their hormonal systems through the use of a synthetic estrogen (rather than a plant-based one) such as with the pharmaceutical Premarin. Likewise, one can take in synthetic cannabinoids through the pharmaceutical Marinol.

So, in this analogy, pot is to a yam what Marinol is to Premarin…

[continues at Salon]

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