for National Geographic News
A compound in marijuana may be a potent anti-inflammatory agent that won't get people high, scientists say.
The finding could be a boon to sufferers of arthritis, cirrhosis, and other diseases. Existing drugs can be less effective for some people and can carry side effects, from stomach ulcers to increased risk of heart attacks.
Marijuana supporters have long argued that the plant's active ingredients, known as cannabinoids, are safe and effective treatments for pain, nausea, and other ailments.
The most active cannabinoid—delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC—is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. But it is also responsible for the plant's psychotropic effects.
Now researchers say that another cannabinoid, called beta-caryophyllene, or (E)-BCP, helps combat inflammation without affecting the brain.
(E)-BCP is already part of many people's daily diets, the researchers note. Foods that are particularly high in the compound include black pepper, oregano, basil, lime, cinnamon, carrots, and celery.
Essential oils from cannabis plants—whose leaves and flowers are used to make the marijuana drug—contain up to 35 percent (E)-BCP.
But even after decades of cannabis research, scientists hadn't previously known that the compound had anti-inflammatory properties.
"This is because the focus was on the classical cannabinoids [rather than (E)-BCP]," said lead study author Jürg Gertsch of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Cannabinoids in marijuana are known to primarily affect two of the many molecular receptors in the human body.
The CB1 receptor is found in the brain and central nervous system and is responsible for the high people experience when they smoke pot.
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