Breaking The Stigma: Marijuana And The Endocannabinoid System

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to my parents and they asked me about classes and how they were going. I began to tell them about what I’m studying and began to talk a bit about neurochemistry. I told them about how we read an article each week and really break it down in order to fully understand what the article is talking about. I told them about how we’ve talked about insulin, dopamine and even endocannabinoids. Jokingly, my dad immediately asked,

“Endocannabinoids? You’re not going to start smoking pot are you?”

Although I know my dad was only kidding, his quick response when I said I was learning about endocannabinoids was not surprising. Although marijuana is associated with sitting on the coach, playing video games and raiding the house for food, there are enormous benefits to the drug that it seems few recognize, or at least take seriously. Cannabis has become an increasingly popular topic in today’s society, especially since there are states that have begun to legalize it for medicinal use, and for good reason.

I’m sure many of you have heard of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. But what I do not believe many know is that our bodies create similar molecules known as endocannabinoids. The two most important are anandamide (AEA) and N-arachidonoyldopamine (2-AG). These endocannabinoids do not have the same psychoactive effects, but do have very positive influences on our bodies.

The endocannabinoid pathway is very unique because it works backwards. Other pathways work from a pre-synaptic cell (cell sending the signal) to the post-synaptic cell (cell receiving the signal). The endocannabinoid pathway works instead from post-synaptic to pre-synaptic. This process is called retrograde signaling. Retrograde signaling is a feedback mechanism used to regulate chemical neurotransmission.

Manipulation of the cannabinoid pathway may provide treatment for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Cannabinoids have been seen to reduce oxidative stress, neuroinflammation and apoptosis (cell death) that are evoked by β-amyloid, which is involved in AD. Cannabinoids also may have the ability to promote repair mechanisms within the brain. Manipulating the endocannabinoid system in AD patients may offer a better substitute for current treatments that often have unwanted side effects such as liver damage and gastrointestinal disturbances.

More and more people are becoming aware of the positive effects of marijuana. But the main issue for many is its psychoactive side effects. Now researchers are working on ways to extract THC and use it in clinical trials. Scientists are also working on ways to decrease those psychoactive side effects in order to provide a more ethical way to administer treatment with the use of cannabinoids.

I understand why it is so difficult to accept that marijuana is good for you, especially with its psychoactive effects and the stigma that has been pressed upon it. However, with new methods of research and the vast amount of information there is out there, it is hard to ignore the facts. There is little evidence that smoking weed is bad for you. In fact, there is more evidence that consuming alcohol is more detrimental to our brains than getting high!

Now, I don’t mean that we should all start getting high while listening to the newest Arctic Monkeys album, but rather to open our minds to the reality that Cannabis can be good for the body. It can be beneficial for those suffering from Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, severe pain, Tourette’s syndrome, seizures, migraines; the list goes on and on. Hopefully, as time proceeds others will begin to recognize its benefits, and work to focus on finding a way to harness its helpful properties.