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Scientists are a little bit closer in CB1 receptor research and understanding how CB1 receptors function in conjunction with cannabinoids and endocannabinoids, with newly published research showing that the receptors are more flexible than previously thought.

Our endocannabinoid system is built throughout the entire body, which can produce its own endocannabinoids which are used to regulate things like appetite, mood, memory, pain, and more. It can also interact with cannabinoids, compounds found outside the body, which are found naturally in cannabis. This is why weed has so many medicinal benefits and is the cause of the high we feel during use: cannabinoids bind to receptors and interact with them, releasing a variety of chemical signals, part of the reason different people experience different effects when imbibing.

Previously, scientists thought of cannabinoids and receptors as a kind of lock-and-key system, one cannabinoid fitting in one receptor. However, this new research has shown it isn’t so simple as that. The receptors are made up of spiraling amino acids called helices that weave in and out of a cell’s membrane. These flexible helices coalesce around the receptor’s binding site.

Researchers were able to determine that the receptors were able to interact with more than one cannabinoid by crystallizing the CB1 receptor while it was binding with a THC-like molecule. Their hope is that this and continued research will help them develop cannabinoid-like drugs that can interact differently with the receptor, making more effective medications. “We want to make compounds that will modify the receptor differently,”Alexandros Makriyannis, director of Northeastern University’s Center for Drug Discovery said in an interview with High Times “so we can make better drugs.” Makriyannis is one of the co-authors of the study.

“People have been using cannabis for a variety of therapeutic indications for centuries,” Makriyannis said. This and other new research about why cannabinoids are such effective medicines will help us better understand why, and how we might be able to improve on that trend.