What are Cannabinoids? Where do they come from and how do they affect the human body? Great advances in science always start with a question!
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis and hemp plants. How many there are, experts can’t really say. Some say there are about 80+ cannabinoids. But others believe there are more than 110! Regardless of the actual number, only a few cannabinoids have been investigated and documented.
The cannabinoids, together with the terpenes and flavonoids, form a complex relationship with each other. They give plants their flavor, texture, aroma, color, etc. They also serve as the plant’s protective mechanism.
In the human body, the cannabinoids interact with our own ECS. When needed, they take the place of our own endocannabinoids. They help our ECS establish balance within the body.
If our body responds to the molecules in an opioid, then that means there must be something in our cells that they react to. So researchers looked for the receptors opioid bind to and found them.
Using the same logic, we must also have receptors for the molecules found in cannabis and hemp. After all, we also react to the plant. So researchers looked for them and found the CB1 receptor.
To find out if that is, indeed, the receptor THC (the major cannabinoid) binds to, researchers genetically altered some laboratory mice. They removed that specific receptor from their cells. Lo and behold; THC did not produce any effects on the mice. After all, THC had nothing to activate. So now we have the first cannabinoid receptor, CB1.
Digging deeper, they discovered that our cells also produce a cannabinoid-like molecule. They called it the endocannabinoid or endogenous cannabinoid. Anandamide, the first endocannabinoid found, binds to the CB1 receptor.
Not long after this discovery, they found the CB2 receptor. The second endocannabinoid, 2-Arachidonoylglycerol, was discovered a couple of years later.
We now have the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Through intensive studies, researchers discovered the importance of the ECS in promoting balance within the body. They also discovered how ECS problems contribute to diseases and illnesses. More important, they saw the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids to our health.
THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol
The most famous of all cannabinoids, THC makes up the majority of the cannabinoids. It’s also responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis.
THC produces psychoactive and mind-altering effects. It also stimulates the pleasure and reward centers of the brain, so it produces addictive feelings.
THC comes from its acid precursor called tetrahydrocannabinolic acid or THCA, a nonpsychoactive compound.
CBD or Cannabidiol
The second, most popular cannabinoid is CBD. Unlike THC, this cannabinoid does not produce any mind-altering and psychoactive effects. In fact, studies show that it even dampens the psychoactive properties of THC.
CBD not only reduces THC’s potency, but it also reduces activity in the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. This makes this cannabinoid a good alternative form of treatment for addiction.
CBD comes from its acid precursor called cannabidiolic acid or CBDA. Like CBD, CBDA is also nonpsychoactive.
CBN or Cannabinol
CBN is a unique cannabinoid since it comes from THC itself. It is formed when THC degrades.
Similar to THC, CBN also produces some psychoactive effects. But its potency though is only about 10% of THC’s strength. Additionally, of all well-researched cannabinoids, CBN produces the most potent sedating effect.
CBG or Cannabigerol
Dubbed as the “mother of all cannabinoids,” CBG, or at least its acid precursor known as CBGA, converts into the different types of cannabinoids as the plant matures. Air, sun, and heat exposure converts CBGA into CBG and the acid precursors of THC and CBD, THCA and CBDA. Like CBD, CBG is also a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid.
Although we know little about CBG compared to THC and CBD, research studies found that this cannabinoid produces potent cancer-fighting properties.
CBC or Cannabichromene
CBC also came from CBGA. Like CBD and CBG, CBC is also nonpsychoactive. It doesn’t produce any mind-altering effects since it’s a weak activator of the CB1 receptor. The CB1 receptor, when activated by THC, produces the “high” and mind-altering effects of cannabis.
CBC comes from its acid precursor called cannabichromenic acid or CBCA, a nonpsychoactive compound.
CBL or Cannabicyclol
CBL, like CBN, is also unique and didn’t come from CBGA. Instead, it came from the degradation of CBC when it’s exposed to light.
There’s little research done on CBL. But researchers found that CBL also produces anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.
THCV or Tetrahydrocannabivarin
THCV sounds similar to THC. But don’t confuse the two though. They actually have some opposing effects on the ECS.
THC stimulates appetite; THCV suppresses it. THC induces anxiety and paranoia; THCV reduces anxiety and panic attacks.
THCV is interesting in that, at a low dose, it dampens THC’s effect on the CB1 receptor. So this cannabinoid won’t get you “high.” But at a larger dose, it produces psychoactive effects and amplifies the “high” of THC.
CBDV or Cannabidivarin
A nonpsychoactive compound, CBDV shows promising antiepileptic effects. This cannabinoid is currently being studied as a potential treatment for autism and Fragile X syndrome, as well as Rett syndrome.
CBCV of Cannabichromevarin
CBCV doesn’t produce mind-altering and psychoactive effects. One interesting feature of CBCV is its potent ability to prevent anandamide’s reuptake within the cells.
CBGV or Cannabigerivarin
Researchers believe that CBGV plays a role in making the receptors more sensitive to the cannabinoids. It makes the receptors readily accept THC so the cell can utilize it better. It also boosts the cell’s metabolism of CBD.
The Entourage Effect
These cannabinoids produce therapeutic effects that control symptoms and delay disease progression. Some of them are known to:
- Relieve pain.
- Reduce inflammation.
- Relax muscles.
- Boost mood.
- Improve appetite.
- Reduce severity and frequency of seizures.
- Kill cancer cell and stop their growth and metastasis.
- Relieve nausea and vomiting.
- Reduce stress.
- Ease anxiety.
- Improve sleep problems.
- Acts as powerful antioxidants.
By themselves, these cannabinoids already produce numerous therapeutic effects that benefit patients. However, taken together, they enhance each other’s effects. At the right dosages, they can even control THC’s psychoactive effects.
You also have to take into consideration the different terpenes and flavonoids found in the plant. They also have their own therapeutic benefits that boost the effects of the cannabinoids.
This synergistic action of the different compounds working together is called the entourage effect. At correct dosages, they become a very powerful medicine that’s not only effective but relatively safe as well.
Safety of Cannabinoid Therapy
Compared to opioid-based drugs, cannabinoid therapy won’t result in overdose and death. There are no cannabinoid receptors in the cardiopulmonary centers of the brain. So cannabinoid therapy will not significantly affect your heart rate and respiration.
Furthermore, patients can’t overdose on cannabinoid therapy. For this kind of therapy to be lethal, you’ll need to consume about 1,500 pounds of cannabis within 15 minutes. It’s impossible to consume this much in one sitting.
Is cannabinoid therapy worth it?
The endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in the human body. It helps keep things in check so we don’t succumb easily to diseases and illnesses.
Unfortunately, ECS problems like endocannabinoid deficiency contribute to the development and progression of medical problems. Our body lacks endocannabinoids, so the ECS is struggling. It can’t maintain homeostasis since there are fewer compounds activating them.
Cannabinoid therapy can fill that deficiency. It is a safe and effective alternative form of treatment.