Marijuana – Miracle Plant?

Marijuana is best known for its psychoactive properties. But how does marijuana bring about these sensations and how else does it behave in the body? To answer these questions, students might research how the active compounds in marijuana affect the body at the level of the cell, and draw parallels with how other drugs act in the body. As is the case with many other drugs — from legal, over-the-counter medications to illegal street drugs, like heroin — the active compounds interact with locations on the surfaces of cells called receptors.

Cell surface receptors provide a means for cells to receive information and input from the environment; when a molecule attaches, or binds, to a cell surface receptor, it triggers a series of events inside the cell, like the release of hormones, neurotransmitters or other molecules. A discussion about marijuana’s effects on the body might dovetail nicely with a broader class discussion or review of cell biology, the makeup and function of the cell membrane, and the function of neurotransmitters.

To dive a little deeper, explain that cells in the human body have receptors for the active compounds in marijuana, collectively referred to as cannabinoids. By binding to cannabinoid receptors, cannabinoid molecules affect how cells release chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. The human body naturally makes cannabinoids, and the main active ingredients in marijuana mimic these molecules and can therefore bind to the same receptors.

This might help to explain some of the effects marijuana is reported to have not just on the brain, but on other body systems as well. With this background in place, have students research some of the conditions and disorders marijuana is reported to help. What evidence do scientists use to support the idea that marijuana may help these and other conditions? What kind of additional evidence about the beneficial effects of marijuana do scientists need, and how do they suggest better using marijuana in ways that best help patients? Read rest of article.

Source:  NY Times Learning Network