The Intracellular Mechanics of Marijuana

By Eman Kazi

At the Stony Brook Institute of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery, Professor Dale Deutsch and his research team recently identified a group of Fatty Acid binding proteins (FABPs), which serve as intracellular transporters for two of the main active substances in marijuana, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). This project also asserted that CBD may help reduce seizures and serve as a treatment for pediatric epilepsy.

It is known that the chemicals THC and CBD occur naturally in marijuana and can be organically synthesized. Research has shown that the two are transported in the blood through albumin or other lipoproteins, and then imported into cells. However, intracellular transporters have not been previously identified. The team was searching for various proteins or other molecules that increased in concentration with the administration of THC and CBD into cells. By finding which compounds increased in concentration and activity, the team was able to produce a link between the chemical and the carrier. THC and CBD elevated levels of endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA), which suggested that the two chemicals target cellular proteins involved in endocannabinoid clearance, including the FABPs. By using computational analyses and cell signaling assays, they showed that at least three FABPs were involved in binding THC and CBD, causing them to realize that the FABPs were intracellular transporters responsible for the transport of THC and CBD in vivo.

By studying the transporters of CBD, the lab can now target various receptors in the cells. Some of these receptors are very important for pain and inflammation, and may thus help create novel treatments and therapies.


  1. “Fatty Acid Binding Proteins are Intracellular Carriers for THC and CBD.” Journal of Biological Chemistry.  pii: jbc.M114.618447