Primary cannabinoid receptor structure revealed

By Ryan Maass

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- A new study supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse provides a more detailed view of the human cannabinoid receptor.

The research was conducted by a collaboration of university scientists and NIDA, who say the findings provide a more in-depth understanding of the effects of marijuana. Specifically, the study's authors demonstrated how natural and synthetic cannabinoids bind at receptors to produce their effects, which they say can vary considerably depending on the source.


"Cannabinoids can produce very different outcomes, depending on how they bind to the CB1 receptor," NIDA director Nora Volkow said in a press release. "Understanding how these chemicals bind to the CB1 receptor will help guide the design of new medications and provide insight into the therapeutic promise of the body's cannabinoid system."

Scientists in the study explored the potential medical benefits of marijuana, suggesting there is a significant difference between the effects of natural and synthetic cannabinoids. Products such as K2 or Spice, which are designed to mimic the euphoria associated with marijuana, can produce severe or even deadly reactions.

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In the experiment, the research team used the chemical AM6538 to inactivate and crystallize the CB1 receptor, which was identified to react to cannabis. A molecular shape of the receptor was found by computing the three-dimensional structure through crystallography and X-rays.


The researchers demonstrated how long certain cannabinoids bind to CB1 receptors, which they say explains why some chemicals have longer-lasting effects. The findings were published in the journal Cell.

"We found that the CB1 receptor consists of multiple sub-pockets and channels," Northeastern University researcher Alexandros Makriyannis explained. "This complex structure will allow chemists to design diverse compounds that specifically target portions of the receptor to produce desired effects."

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