cannabis, the third most popular recreational drug

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    LONDON - Cannabis, the third most popular recreational drug after alcohol and tobacco, could win new role as the aspirin of the 21st century, with growing evidence that its compounds may protect the brain against the damaging effects of ageing.

    Although the drug distorts perception and affects short-term memory, it may also help prevent degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntingdon's and motor neurone diseases. Scientists at the Institute of Neurology in Queens Square, London, say the "huge potential" of cannabis compounds is emerging, as understanding of its biological and pharmacological properties improves.
    Cannabis was thought to affect the cells like alcohol by seeping through the cell membrane. But in 1990 the first cannabinoid receptor was found, which revolutionised the study of cannabinoid biology. The discovery revealed an endogenous system of cannabinoid receptors, similar to the opioid system, to which the drug bound when it was ingested. Just as endorphins are the body's natural equivalent of heroin, a fatty acid called anandamide (Sanskrit for "inner bliss") is the natural equivalent of cannabis.

    The natural system of cannabinoid receptors plays a role in maintaining the balance of chemicals in the brain which regulate the rate at which neurons fire. By altering this system, scientists believe it may be possible to slow or prevent the process of brain decay.

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