The medicinal use of cannabis is gaining more and more recognition as time goes on, but in addition to discovering more therapeutic benefits and even more potential applications for this remarkable medicine we are also gaining greater understanding of how and why cannabis is able to provide so many wide ranging and often profound medicinal benefits.

From selective cancer killing mechanisms to anti spasmodic, anti epileptic, anti inflammatory and neuro-protective properties, the list of medicinal applications appears to defy belief, especially from compounds as non toxic and generally safe as those found in the cannabis plant. But the more we learn about how these compounds function in our bodies the more we learn how and why cannabis is such an amazingly safe and effective medicine with such a wide range of medicinal applications, and the greater the medicinal potential. Probably the most important discovery regarding how cannabis exerts its therapeutic benefits is the discovery of the Endo Cannabinoid System (ECS) which is a broad term to describe both the Endo Cannabinoids produced by the body and the receptors they interact with. Every vertebrate on this planet, including humans, has an Endo Cannabinoid System which is essential for maintaining optimum health and it is through the interaction between the cannabinoids our bodies produce and the receptors designed to receive them that maintains the balance essential for homeostasis. Without this Endo Cannabinoid System none of us would be alive (no mammal, fish or bird would be). It plays an integral role in balancing mood, appetite stimulation, pain, inflammation, and immune function. Cannabinoids protect us, helps us eat, sleep and forget (with the importance of that last function often underestimated). The disease preventing and disease reversing power of the Endo Cannabinoid System is so important that in addition to providing an ideal path for treating and even curing serious illnesses this system is being looked at as vital to preventing many serious illnesses with many investigations now looking at the possibility that many diseases may be either a direct or partial result of a "cannabinoid deficiency". Even outside of such failings within the ECS being deemed the primary cause of disease the potential to treat diseases using this system is beyond question, though promise of even greater potential, in addition to what has already been established, leads many to believe that cannabis may be one of the, if not actually the, most important medicines for restoring and maintaining health. Basically our Endo Cannabinoid System is vital for maintaining our health and it is because of the ability of plant based cannabinoids to act upon this system that we can both prevent, treat and even in many cases cure a wide range of conditions. The Cannabis plant produces phyto (plant based) cannabinoids that are very similar to the endo cannabinoids that our bodies produce naturally. Two of the better known and better understood Endo Cannabinoids are Anandamide and 2AG. Anandamide, which is known as the "bliss molecule", is very similar to THC (the well known plant based cannabinoid that is famously responsible for the "high" experienced from smoking cannabis). This pshychoactive effect, of both THC and Anandamide, is a result of activation of a protein receptor called CB1. This receptor can be found all over the body but is particularly abundant in the brain, which is where it is exerts psychoactive effects. THC also partially activates the other primary cannabinoid receptor CB2, which is primarily part of the immune system, though this interaction is weaker than it is with CB1. Other cannabinoids, like CBD, do not interact with CB1 at all, so does not cause the high associated with THC but does have a modest interaction with CB2, as well as other receptors like GPR55, through which it exerts numerous therapeutic actions, for which it is becoming increasingly well known, including anti cancer effects. CBN, for example, interacts with both CB1 and CB2 but unlike THC which has a stronger interaction with CB1, CBN is only a partial agonist of CB1 but does have a stronger affinity with CB2. The raw versions of these plant based cannabinoids (prior to exposure to heat) are cannabinoid acids, which convert to neutral cannabinoids through a process called decarboxylation. This process involves the removal of carbon which converts cannabinoid acids to neutral cannabinoids. In the case of THCA/THC it is this process that converts THCA, which is not psychoactive, into THC, which is. The cannabinoid acids do not interact with the CB1 or CB2 receptors but interact with other receptors in the body. For example CBDA interacts with COX1 and 2 to produce the anti inflammatory effects, while it has also shown to be a strong antagonist of GPR55 which has implications for cancer treatment. In addition to getting you high, when activated in the brain, the CB1 receptors have also been demonstrated to kill cancer cells by reprogramming them to commit suicide (a process called apoptosis). THC, which appears to be the most potent anti cancer cannabinoid for the most cancer types, seems to primarily do this through activation of the CB1 receptor, though other potential pathways are also being explored. On the other hand CBD, which has also demonstrated potent anti cancer properties in certain cancer types, exerts it's anti cancer effects through other pathways, some known, like its interaction with GPR55 and some not yet fully understood or identified. Some of the medicinal effects of cannabinoids are relatively well understood and estsablished, while others remain a mystery and while the effects are observed the mechanisms involved are still not well understood. For example the observed benefits of raw THCA for treating epilepsy is particularly confusing. CBD does not get you high, like THC does, but that is because it does not activate CB1, which is responsible for the high, but CBD does pass the BBB (Blood Brain Barrier) and does have an effect on brain function, so it's ability to prevent seizures is not wholly surprising, even if it is still not fully understood. Raw THCA, on the other hand, is not believed to even enter the brain, yet seems to have a potent anti epileptic effect that may even make it a superior medicine to CBD. Raw THCA is not known to interact directly with CB1 or CB2 but exerts effects through other pathways, most of which remain unknown, it does act as an antagonist to TRPM8, which also may have some utility for some cancers, but one of the more surprising observed effects of raw THCA is effects on seizures and the remarkable success many epilepsy patients have had using THCA, which appears to dwarf even the impressive effectiveness of CBD, especially as a long term treatment. This is especially surprising as THCA is not believed to have direct effect on the brain, is not believed to interact with the CB receptors and the receptors it does have established effects on, like TRPM8, are not known to have any utility for epilepsy. It is theorised that it may exert an effect on the brain through the Endocrine Nervous System, but this is just conjecture, and while its efficacy in this area is becoming more apparent, the mechanisms involved remain a mystery. However, even outside of the Endo Cannabinoid System, the potential for the brain to be profoundly influenced by the gut is an area that is being explored and as our understanding of that, along with our understanding of cannabinoids and the Endo Cannabinoid System, increases we will gain a better understanding of how and why, which allows us to maximise medicinal applications. THC and CBD are the best understood of all the cannabinoids from the plant and Anandamide and 2AG are the two best understood of the Endo Cannabinoids that our bodies produce naturally. In the case of even these cannabinoids there are unknown pathways and medicinal properties that cannot be explained. So there is clearly much more to learn. Undiscovered pathways and receptors may hold the key to both the medicinal properties we have already observed as well as uncovering other potential applications. On top of that our increasing understanding of the Endocrine Nervous System and the interaction between microbes in the gut are all paving the way for ground breaking medical discoveries. Understanding these mechanisms and pathways allows us to improve the efficacy of cannabis medicines as we learn more about what combinations and ratios are optimum for which illness. For example, we know that THC can kill cancer through CB1, making it an optimum choice for cancers where CB1 targeting is a viable option, but other cannabinoids may be able to hit cancer from other angles and different cancers may respond better from different combinations and ratios. If THC can kill cancer through CB1, while CBN and CBD can utilise CB2, with CBD and CBG and CBGA and CBDA all able to utilise GPR55 and THCA acting as a potent antagonist against TRPM8 the more we know the more we can do. While there remains much to learn and clearly greater potential to uncover, what is already obvious (and has been for over a century) is that cannabis is remarkably safe and profoundly medicinal and while we need to improve our knowledge and understanding of how and why cannabis works, so that we can optimise its efficacy, we already know more than enough to utilise this natural medicine to transform and save many lives and end so much needless suffering.