Why Cannabis Stems Inflammation Print
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Friday, 05 September 2008 14:28
Why Cannabis Stems Inflammation


Cannabis has long been recognized as a medicinal plant. Researchers from ETH
Zurich and Bonn University have now established anti-inflammatory properties in
hemp oil. (Credit: iStockphoto/Tatyana Ogryzko)

ScienceDaily (July 22, 2008) — Cannabis has long been accredited with anti-
inflammatory properties. ETH Zurich researchers, however, have now discovered that
it is not only the familiar psychoactive substances that are responsible for this; a
compound we take in every day in vegetable nutriment also plays a significant role.

People not only rate cannabis sativa L. highly because of its intoxicating effects; it has
also long been used as a medicinal plant. Although the plant has been scrutinized for
years, surprising new aspects keep cropping up. For example, researchers from ETH
Zurich and Bonn University examined a component in the plant’s essential oil that
until then had largely been ignored and found it to have remarkable phar-
macological effects. The findings open up interesting perspectives, especially for the
prevention and treatment of inflammations.

Completely different molecule structure

The hemp plant contains over 450 different substances, only three of which are
responsible for its intoxicating effect. They activate the two receptors in the body CB1
and CB2. Whilst the CB1 receptor in the central nervous system influences
perception, the CB2 receptor in the tissue plays a crucial role in inhibiting
inflammation. If the receptor is activated, the cell releases fewer pro-inflammatory
signal substances, or cytokines. The scientists have now discovered that the
substance beta-carophyllene, which composes between 12 and 35 percent of the
cannabis plant’s essential oil, activates the CB2 receptor selectively.

Unlike the three psychoactive substances, however, beta-carophyllene does not latch
onto the CB1 receptor and consequently does not trigger the intoxicating effect. “Due
to the various effects of cannabis, we had suspected for quite some time that other
substances could come into play besides the psychoactive ones”, explains Jürg
Gertsch from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at ETH Zurich. “However,
astonishingly we didn’t know what substances these were until now.”

Gertsch finds it remarkable that beta-carophyllene has a very different molecule
structure to that of the classical cannabinoids. “This is presumably why no one
realized that the substance can also activate the CB2 receptor.” The scientists were
not only able to prove that beta-carophyllene binds with the CB2 receptor in vitro but
also in animal tests, where they treated mice that were suffering from an
inflammatory swelling on their paws with orally administered doses of the substance.
The swelling declined in up to 70 percent of the animals, even for deep doses. For
mice lacking the gene for the CB2 receptor, however, the substance did not make an
impact.

Common substance

The results are encouraging for the prevention or treatment of ailments in which the
CB2 receptor plays a positive role. However, Gertsch explains that we are still very
much in the early stages on that score. That said, the scientist can conceive that
some day the compound will not only help heal certain forms of inflammation, but
also be instrumental in treating chronic illnesses, such as liver cirrhosis, Morbus
Crohn, osteoarthritis and arteriosclerosis. In all of these diseases, the CB2 receptor
and the associated endocannabinoid system play a crucial role.

The beauty is that beta-carophyllene is not only found in cannabis but also often in
plants as a whole and we consume the substance in our diet. The non-toxic
compound, which incidentally has been used as a food additive for many years, can
be found in spice plants like oregano, basil, cinnamon and black pepper. “Whether
we have found a new link between the vegetable diet and the prevention of so-called
lifestyle diseases in our study remains to be seen in future studies”, adds Gertsch.

Journal reference:
Gertsch et al. Beta-caryophyllene is a dietary cannabinoid. Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, 2008; 105 (26): 9099 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803601105
Adapted from materials provided by ETH Zurich/Swiss Federal Institute of
Technology.
ETH Zurich/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (2008, July 22). Why Cannabis
Stems Inflammation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2008, from
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080720222549.htm
 

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