The cannabis plant has had a tumultuous past. Once revered for its medicinal properties, it then became a banned narcotic and now the perceived medical benefits of cannabis see it receiving renewed attention. The active ingredients in cannabis plant extracts — phytocannabinoids — are now being investigated, both as formulations and in isolation, for pharmaceutical applications. The most abundant phytocannabinoid is (−)-trans-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, a compound readily extracted from Cannabis sativa. This is opposed to synthetic cannabinoids that are manufactured artificially, and opposed to endocannabinoids, which are actually cannabinoid receptors in the bodies of animals and humans.
Note that ‘phyto’ is simply a prefix meaning “pertaining to derived from plants.” For simplicity’s sake, most people refer to phytocannabinoids as simply cannabinoids. Although phytocannabinoids do appear in other types of plants such as the Echinacea purpurea, researchers have found 113 that only occur in the marijuana plant.
The phytocannabinoids delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THCA), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabinol (CBN) have become the most widely known for their numerous health benefits.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburg Medical Center published a review of the neurological benefits of phytocannabinoids recently in the Surgical Neurology International journal. They found that treatment with phytocannabinoids is being done on patients with malignant brain tumors, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, and childhood seizure disorders like Lennox-Gastout and Dravet syndromes. They also found studies using cannabinoids to treat some psychiatric disorders, anxiety, depression, addiction, post-concussion syndrome, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).
Since the discovery of the ECS in the 1990s by a group in Israel, including Lumir Hanus and Raphael Mechoulam, there has been increased interest in the value and science of cannabis, extracts, and the ECS on human health and disease. In one book, published on the subject, there are 27 listed conditions or diseases where triggering of the ECS has had physiological benefit for the patient related to their disease. The list includes ailments like: emesis, pain, inflammation, panic, and anxiety; also included are diagnoses including: multiple sclerosis (MS), autism, PTSD, epilepsy, glaucoma, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disorders, ischemia, cancer, obesity, anorexia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, prion diseases and psychosis.
Cannabinoids are neuroprotective against the processes involved in neural cell damage as a result of overstimulation. In neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease (AD), that brain cell damage causes increased inflammation which helps to promote disease progression.
The autoimmune disease MS is a result of neurological changes from neuroinflammation and demyelination in conjunction with neurodegeneration. These pathological changes are also found in AD, which benefit from compounds that target the ECS. As medical marijuana benefits become more widely known and are more often studied, the potential for increased acceptance and decreased stigmatization is high for more conditions.