Cannabinoid receptor 2 protein

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

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Cannabis is good for our arteries. At least, that is what Professor François Mach’s team from the department of cardiology at the University of Geneva maintains. Indeed, this particular herb seems to have virtues, which equal those of vinegar, in that it can launder our arteries the way vinegar can remove tartar from piping.

Arteries supply our heart and brain with blood. That’s the good news. The bad news is that arteries are also the unfortunate seat of a modern scourge: atherosclerosis. That is to say they get clogged up by way of fat which accumulates and is deposited in their inner lining – just like the chalky deposit lines your basin. In time, the fatty deposit wears the lining slowly but surely. As a consequence, lesions appear and the immune system is launched into a continuous battle in an attempt to repair the damage. Risk factors such as tobacco, diabetes and high blood pressure just makes things worse by adding to the artery’s wear and tear thereby causing unremitting inflammation. As the inner wall thickens, it gets more and more difficult for the blood to circulate until the threshold of a cardiovascular arrest is reached.

How is it that cannabis can counter the effects of atherosclerosis? Its psychoactive compounds – the cannabinoids – make a beeline for the cannabinoid receptor 2 protein or CB2. CB2 proteins belong to the large family of G-protein coupled receptors and look a little like barrels which are lodged in the immune cells’ membranes. The cannabinoids bind to CB2 by squeezing into a specific pouch made just for this purpose and which is situated at the cell’s surface.

The main cannabinoid is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which appears to have anti-inflammatory properties. The moment THC and CB2 meet, the immune cells become instantly less effective. As a result, there is no massive gathering where the lesions appear and, as a consequence, inflammation is checked. Hence, by stimulating the cannabinoid receptor 2 protein, THC could ultimately stall the process of atherosclerosis and in the long run ward off potential heart attacks and strokes.

This is no excuse to get stoned on a regular basis – or stoned at all for that matter. CB2 has a positive role on arteries at an extremely precise dosage and – wait for it – a dosage which is far weaker than that inhaled when smoking a joint. And a high dosage, like a very weak one, has no beneficial effect whatsoever. So there is no point in smoking cannabis in the hope of preventing cardiac arrests. Though the play between CB2 and THC does offer novel therapeutic perspectives in the battle against atherosclerosis and its consequences, cannabis still remains an illicit drug and a joint involves – besides THC – numerous other toxic compounds.

UniProt cross references
Cannabinoid receptor 2 protein, Homo sapiens (Human): P34972

Protein Spotlight (ISSN 1424-4721) is a monthly review written by the Swiss-Prot team of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Spotlight articles describe a specific protein or family of proteins on an informal tone. Follow us: Subscribe · Twitter · Facebook