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Science tries to unlock the secrets of cannabis

As the centuries-old medicinal properties of cannabis are again increasingly accepted in the modern world, researchers are trying to
understand how it works and how it can fight diseases.
Its proponents appreciate that medical cannabis can improve the lives of patients and relieve pain.
Of course there is nothing new about cannabis. After all, it has been known to mankind almost always.
In Siberia seeds were found inside tombs dating back to 3000 BC The Chinese used cannabis as a medicine thousands of years ago. Cannabis is equally American – President George Washington cultivated it on Mount Vernon.
For most of American history, cannabis—mostly in tinctures and extracts—was legal.
And then the madness began: Marijuana, the youth killer. The gate of drugs.

Drug Schedule I, As Heroin
For almost 70 years, the plant remained in secret and medical research was largely halted. In 1970, the U.S. government made the study even more difficult, describing it as the drug Schedule I – a dangerous substance with no valid medical purpose, with a high probability of dependence, in the same category as heroin.
Those who wanted to learn, to expand their knowledge of cannabis were considered criminals in the U.S. by definition.
But now, as more and more people turn to medical cannabis to treat diseases, scientific interest has flared up.

At a cannabis pharmacy in Los Angeles, Damaris Diaz checks the aroma and moisture of her products.

Surprises, even hidden miracles
And as Νational Geographic writes, there are surprises, even hidden miracles in this forbidden plant.
Although cannabis is still classified as Schedule I, U.S. general surgeon Vivek Murthy recently expressed interest in what science can learn from cannabis, noting that early evidence suggests that “in some medical cases and symptoms” it can be “useful.”
In 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, cannabis for medical use is legal —in certain conditions —while the majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Other countries, on the other hand, are re-examining the issue. Uruguay voted to legitimise it. Portugal has decriminalised it. Israel, Canada and the Netherlands have medical cannabis programs and in recent years many countries have relaxed the penalties related to occupation.
The “grass”
Yes, the “grass” is around us, writes National Geographic and can cause a temporary change of mood – to bring laughter, lightheadedness, an amnesia… duration of two seconds and open the appetite. And although no overdose death has ever been reported, marijuana—especially frequent, “heavy” repetitions—is a powerful and in some cases harmful drug.

In Denver, where countless cultivation crafts operate indoors, workers separate the buds into those intended for recreational and medical use. After the change of law in Colorado thousands of young people came to the State to work in the growing industry.

Analgesic, bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory
For some, cannabis is a tonic, helps with insomnia, alleviates the difficult moments of life.
Regular users say it fights stress. Also, among other things, it is considered analgesic, antiemetic, bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory. In one case, it was found that it helps in the treatment of… Hiccup.
Some scientists argue that the plant’s chemical compounds may help the body regulate vital functions – such as strengthening the immune system and aiding memory loss that cause traumatic events.
The questions
And as the cannabis debate has risen internationally high on the agenda, important questions arise:

  • After all, what happens inside this plant?
  • How does marijuana affect the body and mind?
  • What information can plant chemicals give us about how the human central nervous system works?
  • Could these chemicals lead us to beneficial, new pharmaceuticals?

In Northern California, Nicholas and Richard Lopez who are on a methadone rehab program are photographed with their crop.

The hidden chemical treasure
Even by the middle of the 20th century, science had not even understood the basics about cannabis.
Cannabis had gone underground and the prevailing view was falsified. Therefore, few were the serious scientists who would dare to risk their reputation by studying it.
Until one day in 1963, a young chemist – specializing in organic chemistry – the Israeli Raphael Mechoulam, decided to examine the chemical composition of the plant.
It seemed strange to him that, although morphine had been produced by opium in 1805 and cocaine from coca leaves in 1855, scientists had no idea what is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. “It was just a plant,” says the 84-year-old today, Mechoulam. “A mess, a mixture of unknown ingredients.”
Mechoulam asked the police to give him 5 kilograms of a large quantity of Lebanese hashish seized by the authorities. With his research team, he isolated – and in some cases synthesized – a series of substances, which he tried, in injectable form, in Rhesus monkeys. Only in one the effect was evident. “Normally the Rhesus monkey is quite aggressive… But when we injected them, the monkeys became extremely calm… They almost stayed… seated.”
Further tests proved what the world now knows: That this compound is the main active ingredient of the plant, the substance that “changes the mind”.

Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at New York University leads a research on cannabis and epilepsy. “There is indeed a possibility that it will be so effective,” he says, “but we urgently need valid data.”

Mechoulam had discovered tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). He and his team also clarified the chemical structure of cannabidiol (CBD), another key component of cannabis, which has many potential medical uses but no psychoactive effects.
For these discoveries and many others, Mechoulam established himself as the patriarch of cannabis science. Born in Bulgaria, he is a member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities and an assistant professor at the Medical School of the Jewish University of Hadrassa, where he also runs a laboratory.
He has published more than 400 scientific articles and holds about 25 patents. This noble grandfather spent a lifetime studying cannabis, which he calls the “medical treasure waiting to be discovered.” Detail: He hasn’t tried marijuana.
Israel has one of the most advanced medical cannabis programs in the world. Mechoulam played an active role in their creation and is proud of the results. More than 20,000 patients are licensed to use cannabis to treat conditions such as glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, inflammations, loss of appetite, Tourette syndrome and asthma.
However, it does not particularly support the legalization of cannabis for recreational use. He doesn’t believe someone should go to jail for possession, but insists that marijuana “is not a harmless substance” — especially for young people. He cites studies that show that prolonged marijuana use can change the way the brain develops during adolescence and early youth. He notes that in some people cannabis can cause severe and ultimately debilitating anxiety attacks. And it points out studies that suggest that cannabis can cause the onset of schizophrenia in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease.
In 1992 Mechoulam and his colleagues made an extraordinary discovery. They isolated the chemical that the human body produces and which binds to the same brain receptor as the THC substance of marijuana.
He called it anandamide from the Sanskrit word for “supreme joy.” When asked why he did not choose a Hebrew name, he replied “Because in Hebrew there are not many words for happiness. Jews don’t want to be happy…”
Since then, several other endocannabinoids and their receptors have been discovered. Scientists have recognized that endocyanobinoids interact with a specific neurological network -in the way that endorphins, serotonin and dopamine do.

Phillip Hague, the phytologist of a Denver cannabis company called Mindful, smells the roots of his plants to check their health. It tries to produce new varieties of the plant with a higher content of ingredients with healing properties.

“We have just scratched the surface,” says Mechoulam , “and I am very sorry that I have no other life to devote to this field, because we may discover that cannabinoids are somehow involved in all diseases.”
Biochemistry discovers new drugs
Mr. Gusman biochemist at the University of Madrid has been dealing with cannabis for 20 years. His discoveries about the effects of cannabis components on cancer treatment concluded that the combination of the canabinoids THC, CBD and a third substance of temozolomide (temozolomide, a moderately successful conventional drug) has a better effect on the treatment of brain cancer. His experiments on mice have shown that a cocktail that includes all three of these components, attacks cancer cells in many ways. At the same time, however, it also increases the chances of suicide.
The investigations of Mr. Guzman aroused the interest of pharmaceutical companies and stressed the need for further research.

Lily Rowland takes a dose of hemp oil containing the non-psychotropic canabinoid (CBD). The child suffered from hundreds of, daily, seizures with convulsions

Lily’s family moved to Colorado where since 2012 the use of cannabis has been free so that the child can take his medicine. Nine-year-old Lily now has only one or two seizures a day.

“With cannabis it’s like discovering some hidden pattern deep in a piece of music”
“It is such an interesting plant”, says the biologist – geneticist Mr. Nolan Kane “and yet we have so much more to learn about it”, he adds. “We still don’t even know how and where it came from. Nor how many of its species there are…”
Mr. Kane is researching the DNA of cannabis at the University of Colorado, trying to create its genetic map. “It’s like discovering some hidden pattern deep in a piece of music,” kane says.
Thus provoking even those who are strictly scientifically engaged in the properties of the plant “to listen to its music”.

Cannabis grows in an irrigated field east of Denver discreetly hidden behind corns. It is a hemp fibre with a low content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It will be used for the manufacture of rope and paper as well as medicines.
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