New Role for Cannabinoids in Diabetes Treatment

The endocannabinoid system is one of the biggest sleeper hits of modern science. Despite going ignored until the early 90’s, we’re discovering more and more how vital and essential this system of naturally produced cannabinoids, their receptors, and their enzymes are. From breast cancer pathogenesis to arthritis and pain treatment to neurological issue development, the endocannabinoid system is involved. For this reason, it should come as no surprise to readers that the endocannabinoid system has recently been found to play a role in the pancreas. Specifically, cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) is expressed in beta cells in the pancreas. The primary role of these beta cells is to produce and store insulin, the hormone that reduces blood sugar concentration. Lack of insulin leads to diabetes, which brings a host of related health issues. In multiple studies, CB1 receptors have been found to be able to trigger cell death of these beta cells. Thus, cannabinoid receptor regulation is likely essential to the control and pathogenesis of diabetes, and researchers aim to create new treatments by understanding this signaling. Ideally, researchers could stop beta cell death, preserve natural insulin levels, and therefore prevent or cure diabetes, rather than just supplying the body with externally-produced insulin. Toward that end, a team of researchers from various universities in South Korea has released a new study aimed to identify the mechanism of cannabinoid-mediated cell death in the pancreas. Before starting with animal studies, the team investigated the basic mechanics of cell death in a mouse pancreas…

Depression, Cannabis, and… Your Immune System?

Cannabis has long been known to be a mood improving substance. In fact, this quality has contributed to its use as a recreational drug. As a result, it’s not surprising to read that the endocannabinoid system, which controls our bodies’ responses to cannabis, is being investigated in connection to treating depression. What is surprising, however, is the specific way it seems to be involved. Readers might never suspect that the immune system and the endocannabinoid system might be cohorts in the genesis of depression. Wait, back up – the immune system? What does that have to do with depression? Apparently something large. First, recent meta-analyses of immune-related experiments provide strong support for a link between immune dysfunction and depression. Statistically speaking, patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) also show higher levels of several inflammatory signaling proteins. While this could simply indicate association rather than cause (for instance, simply that patients with malfunctioning immune systems have health consequences that lead to depression), the most interesting evidence here is that researchers have specifically observed a positive relationship between depressive symptoms and amount/dose of inflammatory molecules over a widespread population. The fact that depressive symptoms are dose-dependent to immune signaling molecules seems to suggest some sort of causality. Finally, patients suffering from chronic viral infections, who as a result have to take drugs like IFN-alpha (an immune and inflammation boosting cytokine), often develop depression at the onset of such medication with a rate upwards of 30 percent! Unfortunately, depression comes in many forms…

Soothing Migraine Headaches with Cannabis

Nearly everyone who’s used medical cannabis can relate to its ability to soothe headaches. From easing stress and tight forehead muscles to reducing body pain, cannabis naturally lends itself to being a headache cure. Yet, surprisingly, no clinical tests are being performed at this time to treat migraine patients with medical cannabis. In other words, while some doctors are already prescribing cannabis for recurring headaches, no large clinical studies on actual humans are being conducted. As readers may guess, this may have something to do with the difficulty of getting approval for human studies involving cannabis. In any case, the situation is now remarkably unusual; medical cannabis dispensaries sometimes have more access to medical information than physicians. Specifically, as a general physician, you may have the opportunity to prescribe cannabis to a number of patients, with only a handful of those seeking treatment for headaches. On top of that, after the prescription for medical cannabis, you can’t track what cannabis was used, how potent it was, where it came from, etc. A large part of the treatment data is inherently unknown by the physician, and getting patients to carefully record and report that data is difficult, further reducing the number of people who could realistically be involved in a study. In fact, busy, time-strapped patients may not even return after successfully treating their problems. Contrast this situation with that of a dispensary. At a medical cannabis dispensary, providers can keep a file on each patient, using purchases to record average…

Cannabis and Carcinoma Part II

Today we’re revisiting a topic: the use of the endocannabinoid system as a possible therapeutic target for cancer treatment. Last time, we discussed the ability of some cannabinoid molecules to trigger cell death in cancerous cells. In that article we were careful to note that those results did not necessarily equate to a cancer solution and more testing would need to be conducted. Since then, cancer research has continued to be a focal point of the endocannabinoid research community, so we’re pleased to be able to further the discussion. The leading cause of global cancer death is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). HCC is the most common type of liver cancer and usually brought on by other illness or stress, such as viral infection or alcoholism. The survival rate is generally poor, as by the time tumors are noticed, they are generally too big to remove. In fact, liver transplant is usually the most effective approach. Unfortunately, livers have a waiting list and most cases of HCC occur in undeveloped countries where some sort of solution is desperately needed. At this point in time, researchers are testing all sorts of new chemicals and processes. Endocannabinoids, with receptors all along the immune system, represent a unique approach to a solution In earlier studies, the chemical WIN55,212-2 (WIN55), a synthetic cannabinoid which produces effects similar to the THC found in cannabis, has been shown to cause cell cycle arrest in the cancer cell line BEL7402 (carcinoma cells). Like THC, WIN55 actives CB1 receptors. Researchers…

CBD Salve May Have More Uses than Originally Thought

Topical cannabis preparations have been around since the dawn of civilization and have experienced a resurgence in popularity along with medical cannabis. Usually these salves and creams, which are rubbed into the skin directly, are intended to treat conditions directly below the skin. For instance, cannabis-derived salves are popular among those suffering from arthritis, who apply the cream directly to affected areas to reduce swelling. This method of administration is believed to be more effective for arthritis than oral administration and also avoids many of the otherwise psychoactive effects of cannabis. Of course, manufacturers of cannabis creams and salves are often liberal with claims of conditions the cream can help. For instance, some websites discuss the use of cannabis-derived cream to completely eradicate cancerous tumors or genetic diseases. At this stage of cannabis and cannabinoid research, many unknowns remain, so technically it is possible these claims are true. However, knowing what we know at this point in time, this is probably utter nonsense. To be fair, these manufacturers may have witnessed healing that happened in tandem to salve application and may honestly believe their claims. However, there is a stark difference between several personal observations about using a salve and the extensive laboratory testing needed to scientifically support those claims. Regardless, the question remains: what can cannabinoid salves and creams be used for? As it turns out, there may be an accidental shred of truth to over-zealous claims that the salve can solve more than topical issues. Recently, the DARU…

Using the Endocannabinoid System to Track Different Types of Tissue

One of the most important concepts that our blog can communicate to readers is that cannabis is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the endocannabinoid system. This chemical system, that happens to respond to cannabis, was not merely an afterthought in the evolution of the human body, but actually exists in many different animals as well (including birds!). Thanks to the resurgence in cannabis and cannabinoid research around the globe, new uses for the system are constantly emerging. So far, the scientific community has shown most interest in direct uses of the endocannabinoid system to formulate new medicines for stress, pain, neuroprotective effects, and metabolism. However, researchers in Finland have identified a new use of the system…as a biomarker! Biomarkers are any indicators used to track and identify the existence of a biological state or condition. While that sounds complicated, many readers may have already benefitted from the use of biomarkers during medical procedures or checkups. For instance, those with chronic heart problems may already be familiar with the “nuclear stress test”. In this test, doctors are attempting to see how blood is being pumped through the body and which areas are not receiving enough blood during vigorous exercise or cardiac stress. Unfortunately, attempting to crack open a patient’s chest to view this directly would be dangerous, time-consuming, and costly. Additionally, even with the chest open, the doctor would have no quantifiable way to measure blood-flow in each small area. To solve this, doctors often inject…

Alzheimer’s Revisited: How Cannabis is Changing the State of Alzheimer’s Medication

Late Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (LOAD) is what most people think of when they think of Alzheimer’s. Accounting for roughly 70% of dementia cases, it’s characterized by a progressive decline in cognitive ability in individuals over the age of 65. This decline affects memory, language, motor skills, and general ability to live and take care of oneself. However, while these symptoms are troubling enough, LOAD also frequently includes behavior and personality changes. Coordinating healthcare is already difficult enough for a relative with a myriad of age-related health issues, but when that relative is unable to remember basic instructions or able to have a coherent conversation, the situation is exponentially more difficult. Taken together, all of these changes put significant stress on the individuals suffering from the disease as well as the family members and healthcare workers taking care of those individuals. Unfortunately, not much is understood about the cause of Alzheimer’s. Instead, we have a fragmented understanding of processes that seem to be related. For instance, research currently indicates that neuroinflammation and oxidative stress play a vital role in the development of the disease. Specifically, the build up of cell waste related to aging can turn toxic, forcing the brain to initiate a sequence of processes, known as a “cascade”, in an attempt to surround and isolate the toxicity. Unfortunately, this process alone can release even more cytokines, chemokines, and proteins, which eventually leads to more inflammation, resulting in neuron death. As with many diseases, treating LOAD means preventing the body…

Allosteric Modulation: The Versatility of Cannabinoid Receptors

These are exciting times for a cannabinoid researcher; new information must constantly be integrated with the growing body of knowledge surrounding the endocannabinoid system. At times, that new information can even flip our understanding of the system on its head. One great example of that is embodied in the research surrounding allosteric modulation. In our traditional understanding of the endocannabinoid system, there are two types of receptors: CB1 receptors, which are located primarily in the brain, and CB2 receptors, which are located throughout the central nervous system and immune system. CB1 receptors are known to be the primary cause of psychedelic effects from cannabis, so readers should not be surprised that THC bonds to those. In this model, receptors can either be activated or de-activated at varying degrees. For instance, a cannabinoid that barely activates a CB1 receptor would be a “weak/partial CB1 agonist”, while one that deactivates all CB2 receptors would be a “strong CB2 antagonist”. The first cannabinoids that were studied, such as THC, could adequately be described in such terms. However, as time went on, researchers began to suspect that cannabinoids could bond to our cannabinoid receptors at alternate sites, based on the knowledge that similar properties have been observed in other types of receptors. What’s the difference? Everything. Consider the process of inhibition: normal (orthosteric) inhibitors can either trap the agonist to keep it from activating the receptor or can compete with the agonist for a bonding site (effectively reducing the number of receptors that can…

Seeing is Believing: ICRS

Greetings readers, we’ve just returned from the 2015 International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) conference. ICRS describes itself as “a non-political, non-religious organization dedicated to scientific research in all fields of the cannabinoids, ranging from biochemical, chemical, and physiological studies of the endogenous cannabinoid system to studies of the abuse potential of recreational Cannabis.” Many one-off or repeating conferences regarding cannabis and cannabinoid science have been held since the 70’s, after Raphael Mechoulam’s structural identification and synthesis of THC. However, ICRS represents one of the first and longest-running to focus on research stemming from Mechoulam’s later discovery of the endocannabinoid system, the system of receptors, enzymes, and neuromodulatory lipids that plays a role in a host of physiological and neurological activities. After attending almost every talk, we have a fresh stockpile of new information to report to you, straight from the frontlines of research. We will begin to unfold this information in the next few articles, but some of the most exciting new pieces involve new types of cannabinoid receptors and ways that cannabinoids can signal biological changes without receptors at all. Other new innovations in the field were highlighted by a terrific closing speech by Mechoulam, who spoke of endocannabinoid signaling that might occur through sources as unexpected as bacterial films, as well as the need for more testing to determine the actual harm cannabis might have on children. One perhaps unavoidable theme of the conference was the harmony and clash between research focusing on phytocannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids. Although…

Medical Marijuana Laws and Adolescent Marijuana Use

One of the biggest hurdles with medical cannabis legislation is convincing the public that new laws will do more good than harm. In California, the rate of adults who have used medical cannabis is reportedly one in 20, which leaves 19 in 20 uninterested (or dishonest on surveys). Assuming the proportion of adults is roughly equal in other states, this means a large majority of voters are not voting with the mindset, “this enables me to use medical cannabis,” but instead voting with the mindset, “this enables others to use medical cannabis.” While those voters may realize the societal benefits of medical cannabis (such as decriminalization and reducing healthcare costs), their primary concerns will still be, “will this negatively affect me or my loved ones?”.  At the forefront of this discussion is the impact of medical cannabis laws on the opinions of teenagers toward cannabis. As reported in a recent study by Columbia University, almost 20% of high school seniors reported they’d be more likely to use cannabis if it were legalized for medical use, with 55% of adolescents believing cannabis would be easier to acquire. As a lawmaker, this is cause for alarm. To determine the best course for society, we must weigh the advantages of medical cannabis against possible disadvantages. However, just because teens believe themselves more likely to use cannabis because of medical cannabis laws does not necessarily make that true. Thus, researchers at Columbia set out to conduct a survey to establish the rate of adolescent…