Cannabis is grown in many strains. Each strain has a different level or ratio of cannabinoids that are a class of compounds that act on the cannabinoid receptors. Phytocannabinoids are naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. There are over 60 different cannabinoids that have been isolated from the cannabis plant that exhibit varied effects. The role of most of these cannabinoids is yet to be fully understood.
Delta 9 THC
The most commonly known, studied, and characterized cannabinoids are Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, and Cannabidiol or CBD. THC (or its main isomer Delta-9 THC) was first isolated by Israeli scientists in 1964. It is responsible for the psychotropic effect (“high”) reported by cannabis users. Its synthetic form is prescribed in the U.S. and Canada under the brand name Marinol. The active ingredient Dronabinol (synthetic Delta-9 THC) is a light- yellow resinous oil that is formulated in sesame oil and administered in capsules. It is used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy and loss of appetite and weight loss in HIV patients.
Cannabinoid Medicinal Properties
CBD & Charlotte’s Web
Based on the strain of the cannabis plant, as much as 40% of the plant’s extract is cannabidiol or CBD. This phytocannabinoid appears to have a wider scope in medical applications than THC, which has attracted much more media attention. Unlike THC, CBD has no psychotropic effects. Though it has not been scientifically tested, CBD is believed (and has been anecdotally shown) to have various anti-psychotic, neuroprotective, anti-convulsive, anxiety-reductive, and anti-depressive properties. (Charlotte’s web for example is one of the high profile strains of cannabis that has a higher ratio of CBD to THC). Like the marijuana plant, the hemp plant is also a good source of CBD, and the hemp extract does not contain THC.
THC and CBD and other cannabinoids act as ligands. Imagine a receptor as a docking station and the class of ligands, small molecules with special properties, as little computers that dock with the docking station. The effect of this docking is to activate the receptor in a prescribed way, which then sets off the downstream biological behavior. Ligands can activate receptors positively (full agonists) or negatively (inverse agonists). Phytocannabinoids (like endocannabinoids) are ligands that are considered to be partial agonists as they play a milder modulatory role.
Much of the research focuses on discovering ligands that can interact with receptors associated with particular disorders. Phytocannabinoids are more interesting because they do more than interact with receptors. They interact with a range of cellular pathways that are implicated in cancer and other diseases. Thus the elevated interest in using phytocannabinoid based drugs.
IGC’s strategy is to work with our network of specialists to discover novel applications of phytocannabinoids for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical therapies and products. Our focus is less on discovering ligands or ligand-receptor interactions and entirely on therapies that activate multiple receptors, pathways, and processes.