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Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is a flowering plant recognized for its medicinal and recreational uses. Cannabis acts on the endocannbinoid system, a system of endogenous receptors that may have a mediating role in inflammation, nausea, pain, and many other biological functions.
Cannabis has over 80 chemical constituents, known as “cannabinoids”, which alter neurotransmitter release from the brain1. Two of the most active and studied constituents of cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) and cannabidiol (“CBD”). THC is the major psychoactive component of cannabis. CBD acts on many of the same receptors as THC, but without the psychoactive side effects. Recent evidence suggests that CBD has potential therapeutic benefits for a wide range of conditions2.
Cannabis has been cultivated for its medicinal, psychoactive, and physical properties for thousands of years. The earliest recorded medicinal uses of the plant date as far back as 1400-2000 BC. In the 19th century, William Osler, credited for creating the first residency program and considered to be a “Father of Modern Medicine”, was a proponent of the medicinal use of cannabis. He believed the plant was an effective treatment for migraines.
By 1937, the “Marijuana Tax Act” was passed, representing the U.S. government’s first step toward regulating and taxing the production of hemp and marijuana for industrial and medicinal purposes3. However, the Act was ruled unconstitutional in 1969 and marijuana was criminalized shortly after. As a result, research into the medicinal qualities of marijuana was effectively halted for many years.
CBD was first discovered by Dr. Roger Adams and his team at the University of Illinois in 19404; however, its structure was not fully elucidated until 19635. While CBD was discovered more than 20 years before THC, THC has dominated cannabis research until recently6.
Attracted by its low toxicity and early proof of efficacy, the mainstream medical establishment has begun to actively explore the use of cannabinoids for a variety of ailments.
Cannabis Mechanism of Action
CBD exerts its actions through a variety of pathways. One site of action is the endocannabinoid system, a system of receptors found in the brain, central and peripheral nervous systems, fat, muscle, and immune cells. Naturally occurring substances called “endocannabinoids” and the cannabinoids found in marijuana are major effectors on this system.
THC is a strong activator of the endocannabinoid system while CBD has a weaker activation impact on the system, but its mechanism of action is more complicated. Both THC and CBD bind to the endocannabinoid receptor called CB1. By weakly binding CB1 receptor, CBD is thought to inhibit the release of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter7. This is important because the inhibitory actions of the CB1 receptor play a role in maintaining normal brain activity – CB1 receptors protect the brain against seizures8.
Through its interactions with the endocannabinoid system, CBD may counteract many of the psychological and physiological effects of THC9. Additionally, CBD increases levels of an endocannabinoid called anandamine, which creates anti-inflammatory effects through its activation of cannabinoid receptors10.
Another biochemical target of CBD is the transient receptor potential (“TRP”) class of channels. These channels affect the levels of calcium within the cell. The action of CBD at these receptors can increase calcium levels in a number of different types of cells11.
CBD also increases signaling of the 5HT-1A serotonin receptor12. Serotonin is a chemical found in the body that regulates mood balance. Serotonin system dysfunction is associated with a variety of disorders, including depression. Many antidepressants work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain13. The actions of CBD at serotonin receptors have been associated with decreasing anxiety and protecting brain cells from death.
CBD has been shown to protect the brain from damage due to oxidative stress, decreased brain inflammation, and increased levels of a neurotransmitter called adenosine, a molecule important for energy creation and sleep regulation. Each of these effects has the potential to offer therapeutic benefits14.
A functional food is a food given an additional functional (often one related to health-promotion or disease prevention) by adding new ingredients or more of existing ingredients. The term may also apply to traits purposely bred into existing edible plants, such as purple or gold potatoes having enriched anthycyanin or carotenoid contents. Functional foods may be “designed to have physiological benefits and/or reduce the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions, and may be similar in appearance to conventional food and consumed as part of a regular diet”.
Pharamacist Made is currently developing cannabinoid based functional foods.
We’re excited to let you know when our first product is available in a dispensary near you!