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The endocannabinoids: Functional roles and therapeutic opportunities
Date:10/14/2007

p>In the 1960s the constituent of the cannabis plant was discovered named tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC which causes the 'high' produced by it (Gaoni & Mechoulam, 1964). Thousands of publications have since appeared on THC. Today it is even used as a therapeutic drug against nausea and for enhancing appetite, and, surprisingly, has not become an illicit drug apparently cannabis users prefer the plant-based marijuana and hashish.

Two decades later it was found that THC binds to specific receptors in the brain and the periphery and this interaction initiates a cascade of biological processes leading to the well known marijuana effects. It was assumed that a cannabinoid receptor is not formed for the sake of a plant constituent (that by a strange quirk of nature binds to it), but for endogenous brain constituents and that these putative 'signaling' constituents together with the cannabinoid receptors are part of a new biochemical system in the human body, which may affect various physiological actions. In trying to identify these unknown putative signaling molecules, our research group in the 1990s was successful in isolating 2 such endogenous 'cannabinoid' components one from the brain, named anandamide (from the word ananda, meaning supreme joy in Sanscrit), and another one from the intestines named 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) (Devane et al., 1992; Mechoulam et al., 1995).

Neuroprotection

The major endocannabinoid (2-AG) has been identified both in the central nervous system and in the periphery. Stressful stimuli traumatic brain injury (TBI) for example enhance brain 2-AG levels in mice. 2-AG, both of endogenous and exogenous origin, has been shown to be neuroprotective in closed head injury, ischemia and excitotoxicity in mice. These effects may derive from the ability of cannabinoids to act through a variety of biochemical mechanisms. 2-AG also helps repair the blood brain barrier after TBI. The endocannabinoids act via spe
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Contact: Professor Raphael Mechoulam
mechou@cc.huji.ac.il
European College of Neuropsychopharmacology
Source:Eurekalert

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