There are different compounds in the cannabis plant, and each of them plays a different role. Chlorophyll gives the leaves a green colour, while terpenes provide a rich aroma. However, the most crucial compounds that we are interested in are the cannabinoids in medical marijuana.
Cannabinoids are the substances responsible for the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. Many of us are familiar with THC, the active compound that makes you high, and CBD, the most researched therapeutic compound in cannabis. These are the two most popular cannabinoids sold on the market.
However, there are other equally essential cannabinoids, as well. In this article, we will discuss the major cannabinoids and their potential uses and benefits. We will also talk a bit about synthetic cannabinoids and why you should stay away from them.
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that are naturally found in the cannabis plant. When absorbed, cannabinoids affect the body in many ways. Cannabinoids bind to the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain cells and nervous system and produce psychotropic or therapeutic effects.
There are about 483 identifiable chemical substances in cannabis and at least 113 of them are classified as cannabinoids. These compounds are stored in the trichomes as a means of defence against microorganisms and insects.
So far, the most researched among them are THC and CBD. THC is the most prevalent among all the cannabinoids because it is the most psychoactive. Most growers focus their attention on producing cannabis strains that have a high percentage of THC.
CBD is the second most prevalent because of its medicinal value. It does not have any psychoactive properties but it has other benefits that are valuable to the medical industry. For these reasons, it is legal in many countries around the world. Other emerging cannabinoids include cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), and cannabinol (CBN).
The Human Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system in the body is composed of endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. The cannabinoid receptors are like locks to certain functions of cells and are expressed throughout the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
The endocannabinoids produced by the body function as keys to these locks. When an endocannabinoid binds to a cannabinoid receptor, it leads to different effects on the body.
However, the cannabinoid receptors also react to cannabinoids that are not made by the body but by plants. These are called phytocannabinoids and most of them are found in cannabis plants.
CB1 and CB2 Cannabinoid Receptors
When you take in THC, CBD, or any other cannabinoid, it enters the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids bind with the cannabinoid receptors, of which there are two types, the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
The CB1 receptors are mostly situated in the brain and the central nervous system and, to a lesser extent, the other tissues in the body. It is the main receptor for anandamide and THC. The main function of these receptors is to regulate the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, glutamate, and dopamine.
CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are situated mostly on the peripheral nervous system, mainly on the organs associated with the immune system. CB2 receptors regulate pain, inflammation, immune response, and metabolic processes.
The Major Cannabinoids
There are two types of naturally arising cannabinoids. Endogenous cannabinoids are produced by our bodies. Exogenous cannabinoids or phytocannabinoids are produced outside our bodies by plants.
The main cannabinoids include the following:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG)
Although there are much more than a hundred different types of cannabinoids, the ones listed above are the most prominent because of their effects on the body.
Endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids are those which are produced by the body naturally. “Endo” means that it originates from the body. Although they are different from cannabinoids in plants, they share similar properties and effects. The two most prominent endogenous cannabinoids are anandamide and 2-Arachidonoyglyceorol (2-AG).
2-AG is one of the most plentiful endocannabinoids in the body. It interacts with both CB1 and CB2 receptors and plays a vital role in regulating pain, immune functions, and appetite.
Anandamide is an abundant endocannabinoid in the body that is responsible for high levels of adrenaline during a workout. It is also known as the “bliss molecule” because of its role in enhancing mood and other good feelings. It has a nearly similar chemical structure to that of THC.
Exogenous cannabinoids are cannabinoids found outside the body, particularly those produced by plants. Therefore, they are also referred to as phytocannabinoids. “Exo” means it originates outside the body. “Phyto” means it originates from plants.
Phytocannabinoids or plant cannabinoids are found in hemp and cannabis. However, it is also produced by other plants like black pepper, cacao, ginseng, carrots, and some medicinal plants. In this article piece, we focus our attention on the phytocannabinoids produced by cannabis.
Today, there is a big move in favour of the legalization of cannabinoids for their medical properties. The scientific community is putting more effort into producing quality studies that provide in-depth light into the medicinal properties of these compounds.
Many countries are also starting to rethink their stand on cannabis and its applications. For centuries, marijuana has been praised for its medicinal value. However, it was classified as a narcotic in the 1900s for the psychoactive effects of THC.
Here are the major phytocannabinoids in the Cannabis Sativa plant:
THC is the most popular phytocannabinoid thanks to its psychotropic properties. When you smoke or ingest cannabis products that contain THC, you experience a euphoric high. This effect is the result of THC binding with the CB1 receptors in the brain, which stimulates the release of endogenous cannabinoids that enhance mood and increase appetite.
Although most people take THC for recreational purposes, the compound also has medicinal properties. It has anti-inflammatory properties that are way better than aspirin. Nevertheless, it is its psychoactive effects that got it banned as a narcotic drug, which was thought to lead to drug abuse.
CBD is the second most plentiful cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It is widely known for its therapeutic benefits. Just like THC, it is one of the most researched compounds due to its medicinal properties.
Because it is a non-psychoactive compound, it is deemed safe to use for its medicinal benefits. You can buy and use CBD products in all states in the US and many other countries worldwide. It is used purposely as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-depressant, anxiolytic, and immunostimulant.
CBG is also known as the mother of cannabinoids because its acid form, CBGA, is the precursor of some of the main cannabinoids including THC and CBD. All cannabinoids start as cannabinoid acids. When acted upon by enzymes, heat, or oxidation, they change into different cannabinoid molecules.
When the cannabis plant is still young, it contains an abundance of CBG in its trichomes. As the plant matures, the enzymes on the trichomes convert the CBG into other forms of cannabinoids. Hence, a mature cannabis plant only has less than 1% CBG.
CBG is used for various therapeutic applications, specifically in managing neuropathic pain. When it binds to the CB2 cannabinoid receptor, it negates pain perception.
CBC is another promising phytocannabinoid that is gaining popularity for its anti-cancer properties. When it interacts with the CB2 receptors, it produces antigens that fight against tumour cells. Although the research on this is still preliminary, the results from the trials are promising.
In addition to its anti-cancer properties, it may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. This phytocannabinoid may stimulate brain cell growth. Hence, it may prevent the onset of neurological disorders.
CBDV is a cannabinoid that is also non-psychoactive and has almost the same therapeutic properties as CBD. More research is being conducted on its medicinal effects, specifically on its anticonvulsant properties, which may impact the treatment and management of severe forms of epilepsy.
There is still a long way to go for phytocannabinoids to become mainstream medicine. More research is required to make medicinal claims conclusive. Nevertheless, preliminary research on their properties shows promise. Fortunately, scientists are continually studying these compounds to determine their true medicinal value.
The Major Cannabinoids in Cannabis
Remember that there are many compounds found in cannabis and more than a hundred of them are considered cannabinoids. These compounds interact with the receptors in the endocannabinoid system and cause the body to respond in different ways.
Cannabinoids do not have any role in the growth of the cannabis plant. However, they do have an important role to play in the immune system of the plant. They help fight off parasitic microorganisms, pests, and insects.
When these compounds enter the human body, they bind to the cannabinoid receptors or find a way to interact with these receptors and cause a chemical reaction.
Here are the most common cannabinoids and their effects and health benefits to the body:
Tetrahydrocannabinol THC is the major cannabinoid responsible for the euphoric and stimulating high in the human brain. It was first isolated and synthesized in 1964 by Raphael Mechoulam as he was working on hashish.
Mechoulam’s work soon led to the discovery of more cannabinoids and preliminary research into the effects of phytocannabinoids on the human body. It also led to the discovery of endocannabinoids and the role of the endocannabinoid system.
When you take THC into your system, the compound binds to the receptors in your brain and central nervous system. The body reacts by producing endocannabinoids that increase positive moods and feelings. This is the “high” that attracts people to consume marijuana.
Nonetheless, THC also causes other chemical reactions that are beneficial for health and well-being. While the psychoactive high is exhilarating, the health benefits are also something to look forward to. Although a lot more search has to be done, many people are attesting to the medicinal value of weed.
If you are keen on experimenting with the effects of THC on your body, it is crucial to take it slow at first. Every person has a different reaction to it. Some people usually find it relaxing and calming. It provides them with a clear head that allows them to be more creative and productive.
However, other people may find the opposite to be true. It can cause people to be restless and anxious. In worse cases, it may cause a bit of paranoia. These adverse effects are reportedly caused by too much THC in the body. Therefore, it is best to start slowly and gauge your tolerance to the substance.
The compound may induce laughter. You become happy at most things you see, hear, or feel. Hence, you react by laughing, especially when you have company.
For many people, the compound causes the munchies, a feeling of sudden hunger. You suddenly have the urge to eat something. Therefore, it is important to be ready with food. If not, you can get out of the house and splurge at a restaurant.
Interestingly, weed also contains CBD and other cannabinoids, which lessen or negate the effects of THC. If it is your first time, your body may panic with the infusion of too much THC in your nervous system. Starting with lower doses allows your body to adjust to the effects.
Effects of THC
Some of the interesting short-term effects of THC on the body include the following:
- Pain relief
- Short-term memory impairment
- Dry mouth
- Dry eyes
- Distorted vision
- Feeling heavy
Health Benefits of THC
Clinical trials on THC provide us insight into the medicinal benefits of the compound. Hence, it is not only recreational but medicinal as well. The medicinal value of weed is the driving force in its legalization worldwide.
Based on research and anecdotal evidence, THC can help with the following conditions:
- Chronic pain
- Appetite loss
- Sleep apnea
- Multiple sclerosis
Cannabidiol CBD is the second most prevalent cannabinoid today. It is mainly extracted from federally legal hemp plants that contain very little THC. Unlike THC, it is not psychoactive, in other words, you do not get high when you get it into your system.
The non-psychoactive property of this cannabinoid is the reason it is considered legal in many parts of the world. Since it does not alter how the mind perceives time and space, it is suited for people who just want to benefit from the medicinal value of cannabis.
Although both CBD and THC are derived from the same plant species, they have different effects on the human body. Growers have bred the Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica plant to produce different strains. Some strains are high on THC, while others are high on CBD and very low on THC. This cultivation of different strains has led to the easier extraction and isolation of either THC or CBD.
CBD may control the adverse effects of THC, especially anxiety and paranoia. It also lessens the intoxicating effects of THC. Some consumers prefer to buy weed that has a good ratio of THC and CBD in it for these reasons.
Health Benefits of CBD
CBD is a powerful compound. Its quick rise in popularity is due to its many health benefits. Although scientists are still trying to figure out more about this compound, we have the scientific and anecdotal basis for the many medicinal claims.
Some of the reported medicinal benefits of CBD include the following:
- Chronic pain relief
- Pain management
- Improved lung capacity
- Weight loss
- Regulation and prevention of diabetes
- Fights cancer
- Treatment of depression
- Treatment of autism
- Regulation of seizures
- Mends bones
- Helps with ADHD/ADD
- Treatment for glaucoma
- Alleviates anxiety
- Slows the development of Alzheimer’s disease
- Deal with pain caused by arthritis
- Helps with PTSD symptoms
- Helps with multiple sclerosis
- Treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases
- Helps with Parkinson’s disease
- Helps with alcoholism
Now we move to the lesser-known cannabinoids. CBN is a newly emerged cannabinoid that is making rounds on the cannabis market. Although it is not as prevalent as CBD, it does not mean that it is less important.
Among the hundreds of cannabinoids, CBN makes it one of the top cannabinoids to study because of its many reported health benefits. The most particular property that this cannabinoid has on the body is its sedating effect.
CBN, in higher concentrations, may produce some psychoactive effects but is not as noticeable to cause a high. It may also have the same health benefits as CBD. However, it is its sedating effect that most people look forward to in this cannabinoid. It makes it a better sleep treatment than any other compound found in cannabis.
If you want to feel relaxed but want to get high as well, CBN is not the solution. You can do that by taking THC from the Indica strain. However, if you want to get help with your sleep problems without getting high, CBN shows a lot of promise in that matter.
CBN is the byproduct of THC oxidation. It is not present in freshly harvested plants. As soon as the plant ages and is exposed to oxygen, the THC degrades into CBN. Heat and direct sunlight also degrade THC and transform it into CBN. Hence, the presence of CBN in weed is a sign that it is already stale.
Health Benefits of CBN
CBN has only been studied a few times but researchers found out that it may provide the following benefits:
- Chronic pain relief
- Promotes bone growth
- Stimulates appetite
- Reduces inflammation
- Treats insomnia
- Has antibacterial effects
- May reduces convulsions or seizures
Of all the health benefits of CBN, the sedative effect is the most prevalent. According to preliminary research, 5 mg of the compound may match the effect of 10 mg diazepam, a popular anxiolytic, pain reliever, and sleep aid.
Opioid-based pain relievers are known to have severe side effects, a high chance for addiction, and more likely lead to substance abuse. With CBN, you get a natural painkiller and an effective sleeping aid without adverse side effects.
When people visit dispensaries looking for sleeping aid, they are usually offered a bottle of CBN product. Most dispensaries market CBN as a sleep aid. A lot of customers are offered CBN products to help them with chronic sleep disorders. They usually come back for more.
The only downside to CBN is its rarity in cannabis. While most strains contain up to 30% of CBD or THC, they only have less than 1% CBN. Hence, you may find its isolate a bit pricier.
Cannabichromene is another lesser-known cannabinoid but is considered one of the top cannabinoids worthy of study. Today, researchers are delving deeper to learn more about CBC and the other cannabinoids.
It is non-psychoactive and has a lot of potential health benefits to offer. In theory, it is best taken in combination with other cannabinoids to increase its potency and therapeutic effects. As more research sheds light on the abilities of this cannabinoid, we will soon learn how we can harness its healing powers and use them effectively.
Potential Health Benefits of CBC
- May help fight cancer
- Reduces pain and inflammation
- May prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
- May inhibit the proliferation of acne and other skin conditions
- May fight against depression when combined with THC and CBD
Cannabigerol CBG is another important cannabinoid that is worthy of study. This non-psychoactive cannabinoid has a very low concentration on the cannabis plant. Hence, its extraction and isolation are more difficult to process. Nevertheless, isolating the compound is worth the effort.
CBG is a derivative of CBGa, the acid form of CBG. CBGa is where THC and CBD start at. CBGa is abundant in young cannabis. When the enzymes at the trichomes start to interact with CBGa, other cannabinoids such as THC and CBD are produced. As the plant matures, only about 1% or less CBG is left.
The only way to increase the production of CBG is to breed strains of cannabis that yield better concentrations of CBG. Today, growers harvest cannabis plants earlier to take advantage of the more abundant CBG content. They have to time the harvest properly at the time when CBG concentration is at its peak.
The processing of CBG is vital because the compound provides crucial medicinal value.
Potential Medicinal Benefits of CBG
The endocannabinoid system helps keep the body in homeostasis. As a promising cannabinoid, CBG may help in certain areas of our health.
As of today, here are the potential medicinal benefits that CBG may offer us:
- May provide neuroprotective benefits
- It is a powerful vasodilator that may help prevent glaucoma
- Helps decrease inflammatory bowel disease
- May prevent Huntington’s disease
- Can help reduce cancer pain after cancer chemotherapy
Warning on the Use of Synthetic Cannabinoids
Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced by nature. They are naturally occurring substances that can be extracted from the hemp plant. Some of these substances may have intoxicating effects but many of them have wonderful medicinal properties. The different cannabinoids found in cannabis are nature’s gift to mankind.
However, some chemicals can be synthesized to resemble the mind-altering effects of these natural cannabinoids. These synthetic cannabinoids or fake weed are usually sold illegally. A synthetic cannabinoid may be sold in a form that can be smoked, vaporized, or ingested.
Although a synthetic cannabinoid may be marketed as a cannabinoid, it is not the same as a phytocannabinoid. Taking it can lead to drug abuse. It cannot match the product quality of nature. Organic cannabinoids produce effects that can help the human body without causing adverse side effects.
In fact, the so-called designer drugs are not safe to use and may even cause unpredictable, dangerous, and life-threatening circumstances. Cannabinoids produced by nature, on the other hand, have little or even no negative effects.
Synthetic cannabinoids are unregulated psychoactive substances. They have mind-altering properties but taking them comes with a cost. You can risk your health and life by taking any kind of synthetic cannabinoid.
Stick to Cannabinoids Produced by the Cannabis Plant
If you want to experience the recreational aspect of cannabinoids, stick to nature’s products. Take THC extracted from a cannabis plant instead of the risky synthetic cannabinoids made by shady chemists. Many cannabinoids found in plants have better effects on your body than synthetic cannabinoids made by human hands.
There are many cannabinoids found in cannabis. We have discussed the main ones in this article. Although there are many minor cannabinoids that we may not have heard of, time and quality research may soon shed light on them.
THC is the main psychotropic cannabinoid. It may get you high but cannabis research shows that it has medicinal value, as well. CBD, CBG, CBN, CBDV, and CBC are non-psychoactive but each one has its specific medicinal value. These are the main cannabinoids nature has produced for our enjoyment.
As a warning, never take any synthetic cannabinoid at any cost. Synthetic cannabinoids come with an increased risk of addiction, nasty side effects, and, in worse cases, death. Cannabis provides better cannabinoids so stick to them.
As a recommendation, always check with your doctor before taking cannabis products. Marijuana can be good for many medical conditions but a doctor’s advice is always crucial. Be a responsible consumer and practice caution at all times.