A Comprehensive Guide to Cannabinoids
The latest news and information about medical cannabis and how to make sure you’re getting the best results.
If you were to ask anyone what cannabis consists of then even the most avid cannabis consumer would usually only be able to name the famous two: - Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol – or more commonly known as THC and CBD.
The effects of both THC and CBD are most researched by scientists and their effects are becoming quite well understood. However, there are as many as 113 cannabinoids currently discovered and this number is ever increasing, all with differing effects that interact with the human bodies endocannabinoid system.
As medical cannabis is becoming increasingly popular in western countries that have the facility to research in depth the effects that individual chemicals elicit upon the human body. The effects of these lesser-known cannabinoids are slowly but surely making their way into our general understanding and as research increases the depth of our knowledge increases. It is safe to say that it is a very exciting time for cannabis consumers who hold an interest in exactly how different strains with differing concentrations of cannabinoids affects their body.
Cannabinoids Affect Different Humans in Different Ways
Anybody who has consumed cannabis, whether medically or recreationally, will know that different strains will affect different people in different ways. Some people thrive and feel uplifted from strains with high THC, whereas others may find the psychoactive effects a little too strong for their liking and opt for a lower THC concentration which would induce a more mellow feeling.
Some people try cannabis to attempt and experience any potential health benefits it may possess and want no psychoactive effect at all so would generally opt for extraction of CBD oil that has little to no THC involved.
The point is that the perceived applications of cannabis are vast and people consume it for differing and very personal reasons. Therefore, it is very important for us to gain a full understanding of all the components because there may well be a lesser known component that holds the key to potential health benefits that hasn’t been fully researched yet.
In this article, I will aim to provide readers with a deeper understanding of THC and CBD as well as some of the lesser known cannabinoids.
Cannabis Acids Break Down into Cannabinoids
Contrary to popular belief, it is cannabis acids that are present within the cannabis plant and not the cannabinoids themselves.
So instead of THC and CBD being present, the plants themselves contain certain acid precursors such as THCA and CBDA which stand for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid and Cannabidiolic acid respectively.
These precursors need to be “activated” or “decarboxylated” to make the compounds the consumers desire, usually by applying heat but also through other chemical extractive processes.
These precursors are not known for any of their psychoactive effects but do have lots of interesting properties themselves, quite commonly associated with the preservation of the cannabis plant itself, such as antifungal and insecticidal. Therefore, these are more associated with the cannabis plants defence system but will break down into the compounds desired by humans when activated correctly.
Some more of these compounds are: -
CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid)
CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid)
THCVA (Tetrahydrocannabivarin acid)
These will break down into the cannabinoids discussed in this article.
CBD was discovered in 1940 and was initially believed to be pharmaceutically inactive – so in other words, have absolutely no effect on the human body because the research at the time concluded it doesn’t cause an altered mental state.
This was until 1963 when its chemical structure was fully understood and from here research into CBD intensified and research scientists started to believe that CBD may hold potential health benefits as well as mildly inducing a relaxing effect. (This is clear evidence for justifying my earlier point that research into all cannabinoids is important to change initial perceptions).
Research has now concluded that CBD affects the body is through a variety of different pathways, not only upon the endocannabinoid system but also in other neurological pathways such as its ability to mimic serotonin (a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and social behaviour and commonly associated with happiness).
In the endocannabinoid system, CBD’s method of action is extremely complicated, and it is believed to have more of an effect on how other chemicals interact with the bodies cannabinoid receptors than actually binding to them itself.
A brief overview on what CBD has been proven by research to affect is its ability to: -
Lessen the effects of THC and therefore make THC less psychoactive
Inhibit the release of glutamate, a neurotransmitter responsible for memory and learning, and the subsequent effects of this have shown to potentially reduce seizures
Increase the level of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid (a cannabinoid that is naturally produced by the human body) that is believed to reduce psychotic symptoms
CBD has gained popularity in modern media and is now commonly found in oils and tinctures where it has been extracted and has its concentration increased beyond that would be found in a cannabis flower. It is also being made by pharmaceutical companies and being prescribed under brand names such as Tilray and Sativex.
The most famous and well-researched cannabinoid that is most commonly associated with its psychoactive nature. It is true that THC is the most prominent psychoactive compound found within cannabis, but it also plays a much larger role than that when it comes to its effects on the human body.
THC was first isolated and its chemical structure is known in 1964. It was at this point it was discovered that THC is the compound that the causes psychoactive effects. It is the chemical that is tested for in drug tests for cannabis and therefore it is generally THC that is banned in countries where cannabis is ‘illegal’ and not the cannabis plant itself. Hence why hemp crops with plants of less than 0.2% THC are legal to grow in a lot of countries in which ‘cannabis’ itself is illegal.
In the same way as CBD, THC not only elicits its effects upon the endocannabinoid system but in other pathways within the human body, such as its ability to stimulate the production of dopamine (a chemical associated with self-reward).
Unlike CBD, THC has an affinity to both main cannabinoid receptors in the human bodies endocannabinoid system – CB1 and CB2. Therefore, it is believed to have a direct effect upon the release of neurotransmitters as oppose to affecting how other chemicals interact with neurotransmitters like previously mentioned for CBD.
THC has been known for its potential uses such as: -
The U.S National Library of Medicine stated that the FDA approved THC derivate Dronabinol is used in the treatment of nausea associated with chemotherapy
Other THC based derivatives have also been used to increase the appetite of people suffering from the AIDs virus.
It is theorized by many cannabis research scientists that because THC and CBD have such similar shapes, the potential health benefits that they cause are similar and that they may work better when working in ‘synergy’ with one another – therefore taken at the same time.
It is commonly associated with being the component within cannabis that holds potentially anti-inflammatory properties.
When cannabis legalisation is mentioned, it is generally THC based products that become legalized, but this isn’t a concrete statement and it does differ from area to area, so please make sure THC, CBD or any other cannabis-based derivate is legal in your area before possessing it.
A statement released by DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne stated, “It would not be an appropriate use of federal resources to go after a mother because her child has epileptic seizures and has found something that can help and has helped. Are they breaking the law? Yes, they are. Are we going to break her door down? Absolutely not. And I don't think she'll be charged by any U.S. Attorney”
After the two ‘heavyweights’ of cannabis constituents, the next most researched and understood is Cannabinol or CBN. CBN is produced by THCA (the same precursor for THC), but instead of being activated through the heating of THCA, it is a breakdown product.
This means that as a cannabis plant with THCA is left over-time, it will slowly breakdown into CBN. This process is sped up if the cannabis flower is improperly stored and exposed to oxygen after cropping.
You may have guessed then that the higher the presence of CBN within the plant, it means the less potential for THC to be produced upon “decarboxylation” and therefore if it is THC that you desire from a cannabis plant, then you must ensure correct storage of your cannabis buds (usually in an airtight jar).
CBN is believed to have quite mild sedative properties and is currently being researched for its potential effects in helping with seizures and inflammation.
CBG is made from the activation of the precursor molecule CGBA, which is present is around 1% in a cropped cannabis plant, making CBG a minor cannabinoid.
CBGA is present is large amounts when a cannabis plant is growing however but it naturally degrades into THCA, CBDA amongst some other cannabinoids. Meaning that all the THC and CBD from your cannabis plants initially start out as CBGA that breaks down into THCA and CBDA which are then activated or decarboxylated into THC or CBD.
The pathway into whether it converts into THCA and CBDA is dependent upon the genetic strain of the cannabis plant and therefore what enzymes are present, but also due light and heat as the cannabis plant grows.
CBG is becoming more heavily researched for its potential medical benefits, but cannabis cultivators are first trying to find ways in which to increase the yield beyond such a negligible amount. Different methods are being used such as cross-breeding plants known for higher CBG concentrations as well as cutting the flowering time of plants shorter so less CBGA has time to convert into THCA and CBDA.
Current medical research involving CBG looks promising, and it is potentially tipped to be the next big cannabinoid following CBD in terms of its potential medical applications, some of the current research includes: -
Potential help in treating glaucoma due to its ability to reduce pressure within the eye
Potential help with ulcerative colitis as well as other bowel diseases
Potential help as a neuroprotectant
The research for CBG isn’t limited to these points listed here and cannabis research scientists believe CBG to be an exciting cannabinoid for its potential medical applications.
A cannabinoid that you potentially haven’t heard of yet, but it is the second most common compound found in cannabis. It has been known about for over 50 years but hasn’t received the same media attention as THC or CBD, although it should be considered a cannabis heavyweight and should rightly take its place as one in the future.
CBC is made from the decarboxylation or activation of CBCA which is also a product of the breakdown of CBGA. It is a non-psychoactive compound which is associated with the fact that it poorly binds to the bodies endocannabinoid receptors – CB1 and CB2.
CBC is believed to be fairly similar to CBD in the way that it interacts with other cannabinoids that interact with the bodies endocannabinoids system, as well as interacting with other receptors outside of the endocannabinoids system.
CBC has been researched to potentially help with: -
Symptoms of acne due to its ability to reduce the production of sebum, an oily secretion from glands found in the face
Pain relief – in a study conducted on both CBD and CBC in 2010 it was concluded both may have potential health benefits with pain associated to the central nervous system
In the same respect as CBG, it is believed that CBC to be an exciting cannabinoid in terms of its potential medical applications, it is just being called for more research.
Other Cannabinoids and the Entourage Effect
As you may well have guessed from either reading this article or just having an active interest in the cannabis community, that THC and CBD are the main forerunners in the media and it almost feels like they steal the limelight from other cannabinoids that may hold benefits, purely due to a popularity contest.
There are currently 113 other known cannabinoids as well as 400 other known compounds within cannabis and both numbers may well increase.
One effect that occurs with cannabinoids is the entourage effect, which essentially states that all cannabinoids work in a synergistic fashion. To put it simply, any perceived medical effects from cannabis are helped when full-spectrum cannabis is used, as opposed to one isolated cannabinoid on its own.