A Guide to Cannabinoids and Their Effects
Cannabis has been around for thousands of years, but we are only now beginning to understand the many chemical compounds that make up this versatile plant. While you’ve probably heard of THC and CBD, you may not be aware of the dozens of other cannabinoids that work together to provide a wide range of experiences.
In this guide to cannabinoids, we’ll discuss:
- What are Cannabinoids?
- How Do Cannabinoids Work in the Body?
- How Many Cannabinoids Are There?
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. (These are also known as phytocannabinoids, as they are produced by plants.) It was previously thought that only the cannabis plant produces cannabinoids, but research suggests that other plants like broccoli, echinacea, and cocoa either contain the same internal cannabinoids that our body has or have the ability to influence our endocannabinoid system by promoting increased endocannabinoids in our body.
How Do Cannabinoids Work in the Body?
Phytocannabinoids interact with the body’s natural Endocannabinoid System (ECS), a complex cell-signalling system that regulates a variety of functions within the body. The ECS is active even if you don’t use cannabis, as the human body produces its own internal cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids. These compounds are essential to the central nervous system, impacting everything from sleep to fertility.
Cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant mimic the body’s endocannabinoids and bind to the ECS receptors. There are two main receptors:
- CB-1 Receptors - Found in brain cells and the central nervous system.
- CB-2 Receptors - Found in the central nervous system outside of the brain and spine, as well as the immune system.
Phytocannabinoids bind to these receptors to alter various signals within the body’s internal systems, similar to how endocannabinoids do, to produce various effects. Some of these cannabinoids may aid with inflammatory processes, mood enhancement, pain, and relaxation, just to name a few.
It’s also important to know that cannabinoids found in raw cannabis are different from the cannabinoids that develop once the plant has been exposed to light or heat. For example, THCa tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) is the precursor to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). To produce THC, THCa must be decarboxylated, exposed to heat, to alter the chemical structure by removing the carboxylic acid. So, contrary to many urban legends, eating raw cannabis will not get you “high.”
How Many Cannabinoids Are There?
You already know that THC and CBD are by far the most well known and studied cannabinoids out there. But there are more than 100 that have been identified, in addition to other phytochemicals. The following are a few of the most common cannabinoids:
- THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol): THC is one of the more familiar cannabinoids due to the notoriety of its intoxicating effects. How does THC manage to do that? It binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, making it the most powerful of the bunch.
- CBD (cannabidiol): CBD may be the second-most prominent cannabinoid within the cannabis plant, but it’s being used in everything from supplements to smoothies. In fact, the FDA approved CBD as an active ingredient in a treatment for a rare form of Epilepsy (Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome).
- CBC (cannabichromene): CBC is the second most abundant cannabinoid (after THC) and does not produce psychoactive effects. What makes this compound different from the others is that it doesn’t directly interact with CB1 receptors. Rather, it binds with the lesser-known TPRV1 and TRPA1 receptors within the endocannabinoid system.
- CBG (cannabigerol): CBG is only found in trace amounts in the cannabis plant, but its precursor is CBGA, the foundational molecule for all other cannabinoids. A non-psychoactive compound that binds directly to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, we still don’t know much about CBG and its potential.
- CBN (cannabinol): CBN can produce a psychoactive response, but only marginally so compared to THC. This is because CBN is actually THC that has been broken down after long-term exposure to oxygen. This is why older marijuana may lose potency as THC decreases and CBN increases.
While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence around the effects of various cannabinoids, the fact that it remains federally illegal means there is still very little research to verify health-related claims.
If you’d like to discuss the different cannabinoids available in cannabis products, visit a Verilife dispensary near you.
The material on this page is given solely for educational purposes and is not legal advice.