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…

The Endocannabinoid System Part II

In the last article we guided you through the history of modern medicine’s understanding of the endocannabinoid system. We were met with a rather strange surprise ending for both the scientific and medical cannabis communities. Put simply, the focus of the entire medical cannabis movement had been cannabis itself; the plant and medicines produced via refining that plant. Yet, the underlying reason that cannabis is such an effective medicine is found in the body’s own endocannabinoid system. This system is activated not only through externally applied exocannabinoids, such as those in smoked or vaporized cannabis, but also the body’s own naturally-produced endocannabinoids, and finally by artificially produced cannabinoid receptor activators. The star of the show is not cannabis at all but the endocannabinoid system, which is activated through numerous pathways. Cannabis just happens to have been mankind’s first interaction with being able to affect, manipulate, and repair the body’s own endocannabinoid system. In that way, humans are very lucky for this unlikely intersection of evolution, where a chemical group a plant produces for its own benefit coincides with a chemical group that the human body uses to regulate itself. The cannabis plant still remains one of the cheapest and most energy efficient ways to produce cannabinoids that would require more complex and costly resources to produce in a laboratory setting. Because of this efficiency, the cannabis plant will likely continue to play a large role in the medical community even after more direct, more controllable means of directing the endocannabinoid…