Scientists think they’ve found a new cannabinoid receptor, one that could crack open a new smorgasbord of healing possibilities.
It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before: New research suggests that cannabis may affect the human body in new and unprecedented ways.
Before we get there, a little backstory. After the U.S. government finally allowed scientists to research the possible medical uses of cannabis, whole dimensions of human biochemistry that had previously existed in the shadows suddenly shifted into focus. The 1990s ushered in the discovery of the endocannabinoid system—a vital and important component of the central nervous system that plays a role in everything from cognitive processes and pain sensation to appetite regulation and physical activity.
It was the discovery of the decade. In a phenomenally narrow window, science has gained a deeper understanding of how the body manages and regulates itself. In the years since this Pandora’s Box has been opened, the gifts keep pouring out.
Because the endocannabinoid system reaches so many domains of the human experience, it is tremendously fertile ground for research. It’s like when the Europeans “discovered” America. All of the sudden, there’s a new, rich world to explore with strange new fascinations.
Only instead of tobacco, gold and the fountain of youth, the endocannabinoid system promises treatment for cancer, auto-immune disorders and depression. It’s the cannabis cornucopia of our brave new world.
The biggest players in the endocannabinoid system are two cannabinoid receptors most commonly referred to as: CB1 and CB2. These molecules are where the magic happens. Like all biochemical receptors, CB1 and CB2 are protein molecules that receive chemical signals from outside the cell. Think of them like the little black part of your TV that you point the remote control at. They sit dormant until they receive a signal, then they spring into action.
For many years, CB1 and CB2 stood alone. Now, however, scientists think they’ve pinpointed a new cannabinoid receptor, one that could crack open a new smorgasbord of healing possibilities.
The molecule in question goes by the name GPR55, but may soon be known as CB3. The molecule itself was first discovered in 1999 in various parts of the brain—the hippocampus, cerebellum, thalamus, etc.
But newer research has discovered that it also hides out in more remote parts of the body, such as the spleen, gastrointestinal tract and adrenal glands.
So what’s the big deal with it?
If this molecule is indeed a cannabinoid receptor, that means the current understanding of the endocannabinoid system is vastly incomplete. This molecule is distinctly different from CB1 and CB2, which share a lot of similar characteristics. By contrast, GPR55 shares less than 15 percent of its amino acid identity with either.
That means it’s possible that this molecule, which is all over your brain and throughout several other vital parts of your body, is operating in a new and different way than we thought possible.
It would be like discovering that nerves in your toes don’t respond to touch in the same way your fingertips do; instead of physical objects, they can sense magnetic fields.
The potential here is gigantic
This could explain why CBD oil is has such a diverse range of health benefits, many of which are proven through trials but poorly understood from a scientific perspective. If researchers could unlock the mechanism by which medical cannabis operates, it could lead us toward developing new and more effective therapies for all kinds of diseases.
But not just that. Discovering a new layer of the endocannabinoid system has enormous potential to teach us about the way that our bodies function—and fight disease.
The presence of GPR55 in cancer cells sounds ominous and dangerous, but it’s actually worth getting excited about.
While the exact functions and pharmacology of GPR55 are far from understood, if we can figure out what it’s doing in cancer cells, we’ll know more about cancer itself: How it arises. How it spreads. How to stop it.
And if turns out that we can affect cancer by manipulating a cannabinoid receptor or the body’s endocannabinoid system, we’ll have more weapons in our arsenal of anti-tumor remedies. That’s huge.
Among the many theories circulating about the properties of CB3 is that the body may have the ability to transform one kind of cannabinoid to another.
If that’s true, and cancer cells use CB3 for some nefarious purpose, it could be possible to engineer a change-resistant form of cannabinoid that slows the progression of tumors.
Of course, that’s purely theoretical—and a long way off. Still, the possibilities are worth the hype.
CB3 could present the next breakthrough in treating human suffering.