Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, Vol 17, No 13 (2017)

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Cannabis: A Treasure Trove or Pandora's Box?

Dr. Katalin Solymosi, Dr. Attila Köfalvi


Cannabis is one of the earliest cultivated plants. Cannabis of industrial utility and culinary value is generally termed as hemp. Conversely, cannabis that is bred for medical, spiritual and recreational purposes is called marijuana. The female marijuana plant produces a significant quantity of bio- and psychoactive phytocannabinoids, which regained the spotlight with the discovery of the endocannabinoid system of the animals in the early 90's. Nevertheless, marijuana is surrounded by controversies, debates and misconceptions related to its taxonomic classification, forensic identification, medical potential, legalization and its long-term health consequences. In the first part, we provide an in-depth review of the botany and taxonomy of Cannabis. We then overview the biosynthesis of phytocannabinoids within the glandular trichomes with emphasis on the role of peculiar plastids in the production of the secreted material. We also compile the analytical methods used to determine the phytocannabinoid composition of glandular trichomes. In the second part, we revisit the psychobiology and molecular medicine of marijuana. We summarize our current knowledge on the recreational use of cannabis with respect to the modes of consumption, short-term effects, chronic health consequences and cannabis use disorder. Next, we overview the molecular targets of a dozen major and minor bioactive cannabinoids in the body. This helps us introduce the endocannabinoid system in an unprecedented detail: its up-to-date molecular biology, pharmacology, physiology and medical significance, and beyond. In conclusion, we offer an unbiased survey about cannabis to help better weigh its medical value versus the associated risks.


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