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A molecular basis of the therapeutic and psychoactive properties of cannabis (delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol).

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Department of Anesthesiology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, USA.


All of the therapeutic properties of marihuana (analgesic, antiemetic, appetite stimulant, antiglaucoma) have been duplicated by the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) molecule or its synthetic derivatives. Today, the molecular mechanisms of action of these compounds have led to a general understanding of the pharmacological effects of marihuana and of its therapeutic properties. These mechanisms involve the specific binding of THC to the 7-transmembrane (7TM) domain G protein-linked receptor, a molecular switch which regulates signal transduction in the cell membrane. The natural ligand of the 7TM receptor is an eicosanoid, arachidonylethanolamide (AEA), generated in the membrane and derived from arachidonic acid. THC acts as a substitute ligand to the 7TM receptor site of AEA. THC would deregulate the physiological function of the 7TM receptor and of its ligand AEA. As a result, the therapeutic effects of the drug may not be separated from its adverse psychoactive and cardiovascular effects. The binding of THC to the 7TM receptor site of AEA induces allosteric changes in the receptor sites of neurotransmitter and opiates resulting in variable interactions and pharmacological responses. The pharmacokinetics of THC with its prolonged storage in fat and its slow release result in variable and delayed pharmacological response, which precludes precise dosing to achieve timely therapeutic effects. The experimental use of THC and of its synthetic analogues, agonists, and antagonists has provided novel information in the nature of molecular signaling in the cell membrane. As a result, the relationships between allosteric receptor responsiveness, molecular configuration of proteins, and physiological regulation of cellular and organ function may be further investigated.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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