The Endocannabinoid System: A Key to New Medical Treatments?

Structural model of THC molecule on the blackboard.

By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – The “endocannabinoid system” refers to a specific, endogenous collection of cell receptors and corresponding molecules in the brain. As noted in the journal Cerebrum, endocannabinoids are responsible for a huge array of day-to-day bodily functions—they help to regulate everything from neurological functions, cognition and memory, pain, sleep and appetite to mood and body temperature. In addition to all this, the exogeneous substance known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is one of several in a class of compounds known as “cannabinoids” is able to tap into the endocannabinoid system to stimulate and augment its existing biological function.

This duality—that is, the interaction and relationship between cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system—has engaged the curiosity of scientists searching for new treatments for a range of diseases. The co-discoverer of the first naturally occurring endogenous cannabinoid, Professor Raphael Mechoulam, has suggested that a form of THC can work in tandem with other cannabinoids to address symptoms of conditions such as Tourette Syndrome and traumatic brain injury; this synergistic partnership is known as the “entourage effect.”

“Clues uncovered in the study of the endocannabinoid system and various molecules associated with it are allowing medical researchers to progress on many fronts,” says Ascher Shmulewitz, MD, PhD, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Therapix Biosciences. “This is a truly exciting time to be working in this field.”

For example, Therapix is studying the potential impact on Tourette Syndrome from a proprietary combination of two cannabinoids. The first, dronabinol, is a synthetic form of THC, which has been approved as a medical treatment for decades; the second—a fatty acid that has also has an affinity to cannabinoid receptors—is palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), which naturally occurs in various foods and is listed as a medicinal food ingredient. A series of studies published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry and elsewhere have suggested that THC might address TS symptoms. Top-line results from a Phase IIa study of the company’s compound, known as THX-TS01, at Yale University are expected in early 2018.

Separately, Therapix is studying a new, ultra-low dose formulation of dronabinol for potential use in addressing the mild cognitive impairment that can accompany traumatic brain injury. Therapix recently reported preclinical data suggesting that THX-ULD01 significantly reversed age-related cognitive impairment in old mice. The data from this animal study suggest that the extremely low doses of THC in the drug, which are devoid of any psychotropic effect, may potentially provide a safe and effective treatment for cognitive decline in humans, and should be studied further.

“Further clinical studies are likely to elucidate our understanding of how cannabinoids can address a variety of symptoms in different conditions,” adds Dr. Shmulewitz.

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