Understanding marijuana's impact on biological systems requires a description of its active components. This chapter begins by identifying the mind-altering molecules in marijuana, the substances that contain these chemicals, and their respective potencies. It continues with a discussion of the way these substances enter the body, metabolize, and reach their sites of action. The remainder of the chapter focuses on the receptors that respond to these cannabinoids and the natural substances in the body that work at these same sites.
Marijuana contains more than 60 compounds unique to the plant called cannabinoids. They interact with each other in interesting ways, altering their impact. Cannabinoids appear in a variety of strengths in marijuana, hashish, hash oil, and synthetic medications like nabilone, dronabinol, and levonantradol. People eat or smoke these products, leading to slower or faster absorption of chemicals. The cannabinoids alter the permeability of nerve membranes. They also react with their own special receptorsa€"CB1 in the brain and nervous system and CB2 in the immune system. Researchers have identified substances native to the body that also work on these receptors, including anandamide and arachidonolyl-glycerol. Details of each of these topics appear in the following sections.
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