Scientists have managed to map out the brain receptor that contributes to the sensation of being “high” produced by the consumption of marijuana.
As a number of U. S. states have already decided to legalize the use of recreational marijuana, and more are to soon cast their votes on the same matter, scientists have been turning their eyes towards the study of the plant that has been causing debates throughout the years.
Researchers have now begun to study the effects marijuana has on the body and the mind, and possibly more importantly, they have set out to understand the plant’s structure and the cause of its effects.
One of the most studied molecules is the THC, or the psychoactive component of the plant. As it is the molecule that causes the “high” sensation, man has tried to replicate its effects through various numbers of synthetic cannabinoids.
As both the THC and the synthetic alternatives target the cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1) of the brain, scientists have managed, for the first time, to map out the elusive CB1.
The study of the CB1 receptor was the team effort of a number of eight universities’ scientists from both the United States and China, and their results were published in The Cell journal.
One of the study’s main difficulties was capturing the CB1 molecule, as it’s elusive status is given by the fact that it constantly changes position and moves around.
The researchers managed to create a molecule that captures the cannabinoid receptor and freezes it in place for enough time so as to analyze and map out its molecular structure.
This was a breakthrough for the study as by knowing its structure, the scientists can better understand how the CB1 functions and also how the THC and the synthetic cannabinoids affect it.
The relation between the THC and the CB1 is already being studied, with scientists having also created a 3D simulation of the two molecules’ interaction. This could help reveal the cause of the therapeutic effect the substance has on the body.
By measuring the cannabinoids bound to the CB1, a reason as to why some chemicals produce longer lasting effects could also be discovered.
The co-leader of the study, professor Zhi-jie Liu, stated that the study seeks to map out the molecule so as to better understand marijuana’s effects on the body, as it can have both therapeutic and recreational uses, but can also pose a risk and turn potentially deadly.
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