Cannabinoid Receptors Mystery Revealed Through First 3D Model


As marijuana legalization continues to trend across the country, researchers have been working hard to find the best uses for marijuana. This has led many companies to try and create synthesized marijuana in order to be developed and sold as medication. So far, it has not even come close to matching the real stuff. While marijuana itself has never led to a person’s death, 60 people have died from using synthetic marijuana. In fact, synthetic marijuana, also known as “spice” led to almost 8,000 calls to poison centers last year. For this reason, researchers have set out to better understand the cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

The Importance of the Cannabinoid Receptors Model

A model of cannabinoid receptors may lead to breakthroughs or issues with synthetic cannabis. (Image courtesy of Pulse.)

A study has been published in the journal Cell, co-authored by Raymond Stevens, who is a professor of Biological Science and Chemistry at the University of Southern California. Stevens and his team of scientists decided to make a 3-D model of a cannabinoid receptor in the brain. The study aimed to understand how natural tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and synthetic cannabinoids could affect the brain so differently. Stevens says “we need to understand how molecules like THC and the synthetic cannabinoids interact with the receptor, especially since we’re starting to see people show up in emergency rooms when they use synthetic cannabinoids.”

A Startling Lack of Research

The THC that is found in marijuana is the compound responsible for the “high” euphoric feeling that marijuana induces. In the beginning scientists thought that the effect was being caused by THC altering the body’s membranes. This was found to be untrue, when scientists discovered that two protein-based cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2 are responsible. While we now understand this, there has still been little prior research on how the receptors work.

The Threat of Future Synthesized Cannabis

Unlike marijuana, synthetic cannabis can kill you.

Ultimately the study of the CB1 receptor would work to allow pharmaceutical companies to manufacture some form of cannabis that they could sell to the public. Cannabis has been found to help stop cancer from spreading by inhibiting a gene known as ld-1. It can help a number of conditions, including Crohn’s disease, due to its anti-inflammatory effects. It is also known to help to stop growth of the plaques that lead Alzheimer’s disease. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the medicinal uses of marijuana. It’s also used to treat HIV, AIDS, PTSD, autism, obesity, chronic pain, brain injuries, anxiety and sleep disorders and much more.

The researchers created a synthetic molecule called AM6538 that would bind to the CB1 receptors so the team could evaluate the reactions. The scientists were able to see how THC and the synthetic cannabinoid binds to the cannabinoid receptors. This will allow them to make cannabis based medication with less side effects. The team refers to a synthetic medication that was created to treat obesity. While the medication worked to treat the weight issue, the side effects included depression and anxiety as well as suicidal thoughts. The research team hopes their work leads to marijuana based medications that are more effective with less side effects.



  1. HI very good article, there is one mistake reported though. They say 60 deaths from synthetic marijuana. That number is way off. There may only be 60 deaths where the cause of death was listed as synthetic marijuana. My sons death was listed as something else, the man buried 2 rows over from my son his was dehydration but his family said he smoked fake weed, my sisters neighbors grandson is listed as sucicide but it was fake weed. There are many mnay many more. I have a facebook page and there are many mothers who say fake weed killed their child but cause of death is listed as something else…


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