Marijuana, which can also be called weed, herb, pot, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane, etc is a greenish-gray mixture of the dried flowers of Cannabis sativa. After smoking pot, one might become overly excited and really giggly. One might also feel relaxed and introspective. Again, one might become paranoid, hungry or even drowsy. Tetrahydrocannabinol is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana because of which these are some of the effects that we might have on the trillions of cells within our bodies. However, some people use cannabis to cope with chronic pain, anxiety, and other health problems because of the abilities of compounds in marijuana to stimulate our sensations.
It is to be noted that tetrahydrocannabinol is just one of the many compounds in a class of molecules known as cannabinoids. It can be found within our body even if we don’t use marijuana or products derived from it. Our body is growing its own crop of cannabinoids to run itself smoothly. It uses the endocannabinoid system, and it is how mood, appetite, and other sensations are regulated.
Alex Makriyannis is the George Behrakis Chair of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at Northeastern University. He believes that there are many ways to design new molecules in the lab to tweak that endocannabinoid system and control several of the biochemical reactions that lead to anxiety, chronic pain, and other physiological processes. Makriyannis is on a mission to synthesize these molecules. He wants to use the benefits of cannabinoids like those found in marijuana while leaving the potential negative effects behind. Recently, a team of scientists including Makriyannis revealed for the first time the complete, three-dimensional structure of the body’s endocannabinoid receptors, the proteins in our cells responsible for the effects of cannabinoids. They presented a snapshot providing a full view of the structure of cannabinoid receptor type two, or CB2, one of the two types of cannabinoid receptors in our cells. It would enable scientists to account for the effect of cannabinoid molecules such as tetrahydrocannabinol on the body, and will also be used to develop novel therapeutic medications. Makriyannis focuses on mapping the exact structure of cannabinoid receptors to make new molecules that would fit neatly with their shape to control different functions within the endocannabinoid system. Makriyannis’ team mapped the structure of CB1. It is helping scientists to fine-tune new molecules that will lead to improvements in various therapeutic treatments.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman