Cannabinoids would be useless without the cannabinoid receptors on the surface of our cells. It’s the interplay between these two parties that lets us experience the magical properties of cannabis.
There are two cannabinoid receptors known to date – CB1 and CB2. While CB1 is the doorway to marijuana’s psychoactive elements, activating CB2 won’t get you high, but it will get you cured.
Where Is the CB2 Receptor
The CB2 receptor was discovered in 1993. It can be found in three main areas: the immune system, the brain, and the gut.
White blood cells, the tonsils, the spleen and the thymus gland are the biggest goldmines of CB2 receptors, which means activating the receptors in those areas would translate into the most tangible health improvements Immune cells rich in CB2 receptors include monocytes, macrophages, B-cells and T-cells. (1)
When it comes to the brain, its immune cells, called microglia, are the most abundant in CB2 receptors. Other areas with CB2 in the brain include the hypothalamus, striatum, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, brainstem, VTA, basal ganglia, and hippocampus (1).
In the digestive system, CB2 receptors are present in mast cells, which are located in other areas throughout the body as well, like the lungs.
CB2 Receptor’s Functions
The CB2 receptor carries out distinct functions depending on its location in the body.
The receptor’s main function is to regulate cytokine release in the immune system (2). When monoclonal antibodies enter the body, cytokines are released into circulation, causing an inflammatory defense mechanism reaction. While in most patients this causes mild symptoms, for others it can mean death (3). This danger caps monoclonal antibodies’ potential. By controlling the cytokine release, CB2 receptors provide a safety net and indirectly give antibodies the freedom they need to achieve optimal results against cancer.
The CB2 receptor can also be the middle man between medical marijuana and the digestive system. Mice lacking the CB2 receptors were found to suffer from various inflammatory conditions (4). The CB2 receptors can help treat inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative disease.
The CB2 receptor is also thought to possess an answer, even partially, to Alzheimer’s disease. Activation of the receptor has been correlated to the removal of the beta-amyloid proteins responsible for disrupting neural functioning in Alzheimer patients, and hence improves their condition.
These are just some of the effects scientists have pinned-down in their search of innovative solutions to cancer, inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. With more research being channeled into the CB2 receptor, more and more of its medicinal potential will likely be uncovered and realized.