Scientists have long known about the CB1 receptor, the endocannabinoid system, and that THC and other phytocannabinoids have the ability to bind with these receptors. While previously researchers thought CB1 receptors would bind with THC in a "lock and key" sort of scenario, they are now understanding that CB1 receptors are mobile and malleable, giving them the ability to conform to a wide range of molecules. CB1 receptors are flexible spirals composed of amino acids that eave through a cell's membrane. These spirals coalesce around the receptor's binding site upon entry of a cannabinoid. This new research was further substantiated when researchers led by Alexandros Makriyannis, director of Northeastern University's Center for Drug Discovery, were able to crystallize a CB1 receptor as it was in the process of binding with a THC-like molecule, a breakthrough that will help researchers to better understand the binding process so that they can develop synthetic chemicals that reproduce the desirable medicinal effects found in cannabis.
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