By: April Long – Jan 19, 2017
There was one undeniable high note in last fall’s election results: the passing of pro-pot legislation in California, Nevada, North Dakota, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, and Arkansas, which made some form of marijuana use—either medical or recreational—legal, or soon to be legal, in a total of 29 states. Ever since the drug began being gradually decriminalized state by state 20 years ago, entrepreneurs in areas with the most relaxed laws have seized upon the, er, growth opportunities, infusing extracts of the plant into everything from dog treats to chewing gum to bath salts. And now that it’s permissible to consume the stuff in certain bars and restaurants in Denver, we may soon have our own Amsterdam in the Rockies. This sea change in America’s attitude toward cannabis isn’t just a boon for budding Jeff Spicolis: New uses for the therapeutic herb are emerging that could revolutionize the way we treat everything from menstrual cramps and mosquito bites to acne and wrinkles.
The components of the cannabis plant that enable it to assuage maladies such as migraines and certain seizure disorders are compounds called cannabinoids, found within its leaves and flowers. The most well-known are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which gives weed its psychoactive properties, and cannabidiol (CBD), which is naturally found in higher concentrations in industrial hemp strains. (Marijuana and hemp are variations of the same plant type. The former has been cultivated to have higher THC; the latter, to have more robust stalks—which can be used to make paper, rope, and textiles—and a negligible THC content of less than .3 percent.) The reason these cannabinoids have such profound effects on us—whether ingested or applied topically—is that we are biologically primed to use them.
The human body actually has an endocannabinoid system, through which it produces its own cannabinoids. It’s been known since the 1990s that these compounds play a role in regulating functions such as skin sensitivity, appetite, and even memory. (Fun fact: One of the cannabinoids produced in the brain, anandamide, is the same chemical in chocolate that makes us feel euphoric when we consume it.) The two main types of cannabinoid receptors, which are embedded within the membrane of virtually every cell type, are integral to the nervous and immune systems. When we add cannabinoids from plants (similar molecules are also present in chili peppers and echinacea, among others), they can interact with these receptors to help our own endocannabinoid system function more effectively, keeping internal processes, such as those that govern our stress response, stable and balanced. Some of the many issues that have been linked to an out-of-whack endocannabinoid system include neurological disorders, obesity, and high blood pressure.