A-Z of Cannabinoids - All you need to Know
Human beings and the cannabis plant have one fascinating thing in common - we both produce cannabinoids. In fact, all vertebrates (animals with a spine) naturally produce cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids play a major role in our body and without them, we would feel no desire to eat, sleep, or even relax. Simply put; without cannabinoids - we cease to exist.
These tiny molecular compounds are instrumental in regulating our biological systems and may even have monumental medicinal benefits. For this reason, both scientists and the lay-man are equally interested in finding out more.
This informative article will explain everything you need to know about cannabinoids and the major influence they may well have on our future.
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are molecular chemical messages that signal cells to perform a function.
Cannabinoids can regulate the release of other neurotransmitters and hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, etc - all of which have different effects on the body.
There are two types of cannabinoids: Phytocannabinoids which are found in the cannabis/hemp plant and endocannabinoids which are found naturally in the human body.
Let’s start by taking a look at what is happening right now within each of us.
What are endocannabinoids?
Endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) are compounds that are produced naturally and on-demand in the human body. They help regulate a variety of biological responses such as sleep, hunger, mood, and more.
The two primary and most well-known endocannabinoids are:
- N-arachidonoylethanolamine (Anandamide)
- 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2AG)
After exercise, your body produces anandamide which scientists now believe (1) is responsible for that ‘runners high’ feeling (rather than endorphins which were the earlier belief).
Not much is known about 2AG but it is found at high levels in the central nervous system and is present in both bovine milk and human milk.
Endocannabinoids are both created and destroyed by enzymes in the body.
What are phytocannabinoids?
Phytocannabinoids are found in the cannabis/hemp plant. Fascinatingly, they mimic the responses and behaviors of our own endogenous cannabinoids.
There are over 113 known cannabinoids in the hemp plant and they are seen as the primary ingredient and most potent part of the cannabis plant.
Phytocannabinoids are formed in sticky glandular trichomes found on the flower of a mature cannabis/hemp plant. Each trichome can have multiple cannabinoids present with either CBD or THC being the most dominant depending on which strain (cannabis v hemp) was grown.
How do cannabinoids work?
When cannabinoids are produced by the body or absorbed into the body via hemp, they interact with what is known as receptors to produce an effect.
Every cell in your body from your brain to your big toe has a receptor. Think of receptors as cell gatekeepers with locks that only certain keys (like cannabinoids and neurotransmitters) can connect with to activate or deactivate.
For example, THC connects with CB1 receptors in the brain to produce that high-like feeling while CBD interacts more with CB2 receptors to stimulate the immune system amongst other functions.
The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabinoids, receptors, and the enzymes that create and break cannabinoids down are all part of what is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a molecular signaling system responsible for maintaining homeostasis or a balance of health in the body. Discovered in the ’90s the ECS is responsible for regulating all our internal systems with functions including:
The ability of phytocannabinoids to mimic the activities of endocannabinoids is the reason why there is so much research in this area, and two cannabinoids in particular, are being heavily studied.
THC - All you need to know
Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC as it is better known is the cannabinoid from cannabis most well known for producing that infamous euphoric high-like effect.
When THC is consumed it binds with CB1 receptors in your brain which can affect your mood, consciousness, and behavior.
When smoked, the onset of effects can occur within seconds while if ingested as an edible it can take up to an hour to take effect but will last much longer and be much more potent.
Synthetic THC known as dronabinol was approved by the FDA as a treatment for nausea in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. It is also used to stimulate appetite in patients with aids.
THC side effects can include paranoia, dry mouth, and intense hunger cravings. Although dry-mouth is considered a side effect it could also be considered a positive as it encourages you to drink more water which most people are lacking.
THC is the dominant cannabinoid in cannabis strains ranging anywhere from 3% to 99% in concentrates.
CBD - All you need to know
Cannabidiol or CBD as it is better known has grabbed all the headlines in recent years due to its phenomenal pharmaceutical potential and equally its inability to produce any euphoric effect.
When the 2018 Farm Bill was passed it made CBD-rich hemp legal at a federal level. This means CBD oil from the hemp plant is federally legal as opposed to THC-rich cannabis.
CBD is available to everyone and comes in a variety of forms including tinctures, gummies, capsules, dry flowers, and so much more.
If you are looking for CBD with high bioavailability (the amount that gets into your bloodstream) then look for CBD flower or CBD Hempettes which have the highest bioavailability you can get bar the intravenous method.
CBG - All you need to know
Cannabigerol or CBG as it is known is a cannabinoid with a lot of promise. It is considered one of the “minor” cannabinoids because it is present in less than 1% of the total make-up of the plant.
CBG starts off its life as CBGA which interestingly is the precursor (mother) chemical to THC and CBD. The more THC and CBD in the plant the lesser the amount of CBG.
There is a lot of interest in CBG following some cell and animal studies showing it to have potential as an anti-inflammatory agent(5), antimicrobial agent(6), and may even help with glaucoma(7), however more studies in this area are required.
Like CBD, CBG does not have any intoxicating properties which further helps its cause and entices scientists to learn more about this intriguing cannabinoid.
CBN - All you need to know
Cannabinol (CBN) is another of the minor cannabinoids which is more often found in older cannabis. It is created when THC has been oxidized (exposed to oxygen over time).
CBN is non-intoxicating yet interestingly it can actually increase the intoxicating effect of THC.
CBC - All you need to know
CBC or cannabichromene is another minor cannabinoid that is non-intoxicating but could possibly have significant medicinal benefits.
When present in the body, CBC can increase the presence of anandamide - a natural endogenous cannabinoid that creates that well-known bliss feeling in the body.
THCA - All you need to know
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid or THCA is the acidic precursor to THC found in raw and live (growing) cannabis plants but unlike THC it is not intoxicating.
This cannabinoid is abundant in cannabis/hemp juice which is squeezed from a freshly cut plant.
When cannabis is dried/cured (decarboxylated) the ‘A’ or acid molecule is lost and it becomes THC.
CBDA - All you need to know
Cannabidiolic acid or CBDA as it is known is the precursor to CBD. When the hemp plant is growing it contains an abundance of CBDA which when heated becomes CBD.
CBDA just like CBD is non-intoxicating.
THCV - All you need to know
Tetrahydrocannabivarin or THCV as it is known is a homolog of THC but is not intoxicating. According to Samatha Miller (chief science officer at HMBLDT), THCA may lessen the duration of THC but increase its effect.
CBDV - All you need to know
Cannabidivarin (CBDV) is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that may have potential in treating epilepsy. GW pharmaceuticals have shown in trials(17) how CBDV has anti-epileptic and anticonvulsant properties.
There are thousands of different cannabis/hemp strains all with differing levels of cannabinoids. Dr Sean McAllister (CA Pacific medical center) is working at looking at what specific cannabinoid ratios may help with specific ailments.
Cannabis will be rich in THC with a smaller amount of CBD and even smaller levels of the other minor cannabinoids. Hemp on the other hand will be rich in CBD and contain only small levels of THC and the other minor cannabinoids.
Hemp farmers only grow hemp which has high levels of CBD and less than 0.3% THC. On the other hand, cannabis farmers have a tendency to grow cannabis with ever-increasing levels of THC and ever fewer CBD.
The future of Cannabinoids
The future of cannabinoids is truly exciting. 100 years of prohibition may have stalled our progress but we are now doing more research than ever before.
As we wait for more placebo-controlled human studies we can look at the abundance of research in cell tissue and animals that if replicated in humans would completely change how the world views the cannabis/hemp plant.
Regulatory agencies are adamant that no medicinal health claims are made about cannabinoids until human clinical trials are conducted and rightfully so.