At the 2017 Institute of Cannabis Research Conference, I had an opportunity to discuss the evolution of how we understand the medical effects of cannabis with Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, known by many as the father of cannabis research. Topics ranged from the earliest days of medical research to the most exciting breakthroughs in our understanding of the endocannabinoid system—and new phases of research on the horizon.
How was cannabis used in the past?
During his speech at the conference, Dr. Mechoulam touched upon the historical usage of cannabis for its therapeutic and medicinal properties, dating as far back as Mesopotamia, where it was referred to as Gan-zi-gun-nu, the drug that takes away the mind. We can track the use of cannabis across multiple civilizations and cultures, from the ‘Azallu’ of Assyria to the Neo-Babylonian ‘Qunnabu’.
More recently, we can look to British neurologist and physician Sir John Russell Reynolds, who prescribed Queen Victoria cannabis and said on the subject “For the relief of certain kinds of pain, I believe, there is no more useful medicine than Cannabis within our reach.”
How has research evolved in recent years?
Many researchers view cannabis as passing through several distinct phases of research as the field has matured. Over time, the focus of cutting-edge researchers has shifted through these three areas:
Phytocannabinoids. These are the compounds which occur naturally in a cannabis plant, and thus were among the first to be identified and researched. The most familiar compounds of the cannabis plant, THC, CBD, and CBN, fall into this category.
Endocannabinoid. Research focused around the endocannabinoid system of the mammalian brain and nervous system with a strong emphasis on endocannabinoids discovered early, such as anandamide and 2-AG.
Endogenous, anandamide-like compounds. As our understanding of the endocannabinoid system evolves, we dive deeper into similar compounds found in the body.
What diseases do we expect to treat with these compounds?
As our understanding of the nutritional and therapeutic implications of the endocannabinoid system grows, we see countless mood disorders, diseases of the brain, and ailments of inflammation which may be answered in part by cannabis-derived drugs. Dr. Mechoulam pointed to clinical trials of CBD and other cannabis-derived compounds and research into the role and impacts of endocannabinoid receptors to discuss the wide variety of ailments cannabis byproducts may help to alleviate.
• Epilepsy. CBD capsules show significant benefits for epileptic patients with a history of treatment resistance.
• Diabetes. Mice with type 1 diabetes treated with CBD show major improvements in pancreas tissue samples.
• Transplant complications. A study of patients suffering graft-versus-host disease, a bone marrow transplant complication, revealed significant improvements in chronic GVHD rates over 100 days of CBD dosage.
• Mental illness. Treatment of schizophrenic patients with CBD has shown significant clinical improvement with minimal side-effects, with the mechanism of action predicting a treatment potential for a wide range of mood disorders and behavioral ailments.
• Inflammation. The relationship between 2-AG, the inhibition of TNFa production, and cannabinoids suggests significant potential for anti-inflammatory drugs derived from cannabis and related compounds.
• Brain trauma. Research of the role and impact of 2-AG in the brains of mice following closed head injuries imply the potential to reduce the scope of damage over time.
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam touched on a number of other illnesses in our conversation and over the course of the conference, emphasizing the broad potential of treatment via the endocannabinoid system.