Posted on Jul 28, 2017, 8 a.m.
Omega-3 fatty acids can produce medicinal qualities similar to marijuana, but without a psychotropic effect.
Most people think of marijuana when someone mentions cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds within marijuana yet they are also naturally produced within the human body as a result of omega-3 fatty acids. The most widely known cannabinoid in marijuana, known as tetrahydrocannabinol, is central to the plant's euphoric effects. However, it also provides considerable benefits in combating inflammation. A new study centered on animal tissue highlights the series of chemical reactions that transform omega-3 fatty acids into cannabinoids to provide anti-inflammatory benefits. This is all accomplished without the psychotropic high experienced with traditional marijuana use.
This interdisciplinary research effort was led by Daniel McDougle, a specialist in comparative biosciences and Aditi Das, a University of Illinois professor of biochemistry and comparative biosciences. Support for the research was provided by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association. The study's details and findings were recently set forth in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Endocannabinoids
Foods like nuts, fish, meat, and eggs are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids as well as omega-6 fatty acids. The human body converts these omega fatty acids into endocannabinoids. These are the cannabinoids the human body produces in a natural manner. The endocannabinoids made within the body and the cannabinoids in marijuana support the human body's immune system. As a result, they are prime targets for the development of therapeutics that combat inflammation.
The Roots of THC's Discovery
The first individual to discover THC in marijuana was a chemist from Israel named Raphael Mechoulam. He made the discovery in 1964 and went on to isolate THC within marijuana. In order to determine whether this compound produced euphoria, Mechoulam placed 10 milligrams of THC in slices of cake and passed them out to friends at a get-together. They laughed, talked incessantly and felt lethargic after consuming the spiked cake. These reactions confirmed TCH was a euphoric psychotropic cannabinoid.
It took another 28 years for researchers to determine endocannabinoids were made naturally within the human body. Since this point in time, additional endocannabinoids have been identified. However, the scientific community is unsure as to the exact functions of every single endocannabinoid. It is known that cannabinoids bind two cannabinoid receptor types within the human body. One of these receptors is in the immune system and the other is in the nervous system. Certain cannabinoids like THC in marijuana can bind to such receptors and provide anti-inflammatory responses that combat pain.
The research team discovered an enzymatic pathway that transforms endocannabinoids derived from omega-3 into extremely potent anti-inflammatory molecules that mainly bind to the receptors within the human body's immune system. The finding shows omega-3 fatty acids can generate some of the medicinal qualities provided by marijuana without inducing any sort of psychotropic effect.
Daniel R. McDougle, Josephine E. Watson, Amr A. Abdeen, Reheman Adili, Megan P. Caputo, John E. Krapf, Rodney W. Johnson, Kristopher A. Kilian, Michael Holinstat, Aditi Das. Anti-inflammatory ω-3 endocannabinoid epoxides. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201610325 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1610325114