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The 101 Guide to Cannabinoids
What makes cannabis so unique is the diverse group of chemical compounds found inside. These compounds are known as phytocannabinoids or, more generally, cannabinoids. Cannabinoids naturally occur within the resin of each cannabis sativa plant — they also interact with receptor cells found throughout the body and endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Although clinical data is limited on these organic cannabinoids, multiple studies have suggested that these natural chemical compounds positively affect the immune system, gastrointestinal tract, various organs, and the central and peripheral nervous systems.
What are cannabinoids?
Currently, over 85 cannabinoids organically exist within the cannabis sativa plant. According to medical documents, these cannabinoids are reported to contain a number of therapeutic benefits. Of these numerous cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most common and well known, as it’s responsible for causing the euphoric effect or the “high” people experience when they consume THC. The second most common cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD).
However, interestingly enough, you will find cannabinoid acids in all raw cannabis. This fact means the chemical compounds we know as CBD and THC are actually acids before they go through a transformation process known as decarboxylation. So technically you can eat raw cannabis, and the THC that’s known for its psychoactive effect won’t deliver a euphoric feeling.
How is this possible? Before THC becomes a psychoactive compound, it starts as an acid called tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), a precursor of THC. The reason THCA is non-intoxicating is because of the carboxyl group that’s attached to it. With the carboxyl group attached, THCA becomes larger than THC, making it impossible for it to fit into the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. However, when cannabis is heated or decarboxylated, the carboxyl group detaches, leaving a much smaller intoxicating compound known as THC.
The same thing happens with CBD. Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is the precursor of CBD. In fact, very little CBD exists within the plant; it’s actually created through the decarboxylation process of CBDA. In most lab analyses you will see some CBDA, as not all of it converts into CBD. However, CBDA is completely non-psychoactive and also yields a number of benefits.
The discovery of these chemical compounds
For generations, people have been documenting the use of cannabis — and many different cultures around the world have used it for medicine. While the cannabinoids found in cannabis hadn’t been thoroughly researched and understood until the mid-1960s and 1970s, people have greatly benefited from them.
It all began with the curiosity of an Israeli researcher, Dr. Ralph Mechoulam. Mechoulam and his colleagues were the first to identify and isolate THC, the most psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. Still, scientists were unclear on how cannabinoids worked within the body and how the body responded to its effects.
However, roughly two decades after Mechoulam’s discovery of THC, scientists from the St. Louis University School of Medicine located the first cannabinoid receptors within the brain of an animal. Researchers then began to fully understand how these cannabinoids worked. In fact, the discovery revealed to scientists that cannabinoid receptors were much more abundant in the brain than anywhere else in the body. A couple of years later the endocannabinoid system was discovered, which revealed the mystery of how our body works in regulating a homeostatic balance and how cannabinoids communicate, bind, and affect our endogenous receptor cells.
The differences between phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and synthetic cannabinoids
There are three types of cannabinoids that people will frequently reference:
- Phytocannabinoids: “Phyto” means plant and phytocannabinoids come from plants.
- Endocannabinoids: “Endo” means within so endocannabinoids are naturally produced from within the body.
- Synthetic cannabinoids: These cannabinoids are man-made chemicals that mimic the effects of phytocannabinoids. They’re usually a pharmaceutical alternative to organically grown phytocannabinoids.
With regards to the conversation around hemp, phytocannabinoids are the important ones to remember because they mimic some of the actions of our endocannabinoids. In fact, phytocannabinoids interact with our cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) the same way our biological endocannabinoids do.
Now, CB1 and CB2 receptor cells are located throughout the body. However, the CB1 receptor is predominantly found in the central nervous system, which is why we get a euphoric feeling after consuming THC. The phytocannabinoid “binds to specific G-protein-coupled receptors” found in the central nervous system. CBD, on the other hand, actually doesn’t bind to these cells at all.
Instead, CBD interacts with the CB2 receptors that are primarily located in the immune system and the skin. The CB2 receptors help reduce inflammation, pain, and even tissue damage. Chronic conditions like IBS, Crohn’s disease, and arthritis benefit greatly from anti-inflammatory properties like those found in Cannabinoids.
Overall, phytocannabinoids are a cannabinoid supplement. If there’s an endocannabinoid issue or deficiency, unwanted symptoms will arise. Phytocannabinoids, however, can help replenish or make up for the lack of endogenous cannabinoids your body should be producing.
For example, when we experience pain, doctors often prescribe pain medication to help combat it. However, medication simply masks the pain, by blocking the receptors responsible for it. Consuming cannabinoids does the opposite. Rather than hiding the pain, cannabinoids may help the body work correctly again by antagonizing those same receptors to begin producing the chemicals needed to reduce the inflammation causing it.
The purpose of the top five
Each cannabinoid holds a unique characteristic of its own. While there are over 85 naturally occurring cannabinoids, here are a few cannabinoids found in full-spectrum hemp extracts:
CBG promotes healthy digestion and contains anti-inflammatory properties that reduce inflammation associated with IBD, IBS, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Research has also shown CBG to have antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiseptic properties, meaning it’s quite useful in fighting off infections that are resistant to a number of drugs.
(Info check: Visit Cannabizdaily.co for insight into CBG’s anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiseptic properties.)
CBC is utilized for its antimicrobial effects. It helps fight off harmful microbes and fungi that may occur in the gut. CBC is also an analgesic, meaning it’s a natural pain reliever. It’s also a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that synergistically works with a number of other cannabinoids.
(Info check: For thorough research and information on CBC’s antimicrobial and pain-relieving effects, go to Ministryofhemp.com.)
CBDA is non-psychoactive and is the precursor to CBD. In preclinical animal studies, CBDA was shown to be a more effective antiemetic (relieving nausea and vomiting) than CBD or THC. It’s even been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative properties, enabling it to help in tumor growth as well.
(Info check: Visit ProjectCBD.org for an overview of CBDA and its antiemetic, anti-inflammatory, and antiproliferative properties.)
THCA is a great antispasmodic — it helps reduce spasms. It’s also an analgesic, so it helps with pain perception. Although more research is needed for this cannabinoid, studies have shown it to have potent neuroprotective properties, as well as anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative properties.
(Info check: Check out Leafly.com for research studies that point to THCA’s antispasmodic and neuroprotective properties.)
CBDV is a bone stimulant, meaning it helps with bone growth, and it helps reduce nausea as well. In recent studies, researchers have found CBDV to help with epilepsy and many other neurological conditions. Other research involving mice suggests that CBD and CBDV synergistically contain effective anticonvulsant and antiepileptic properties as well.
(Info check: For various research studies on CBDV and its potential to mitigate epilepsy and other neurological conditions, go to Marijuanadoctors.com.)
It’s no doubt that we’ve come along way since the discovery of the first cannabinoid. Scientists are still researching, studying, and learning how these cannabinoids work with our endocannabinoid system and throughout our bodies. However, as scientists conduct more studies, we will continue to learn how cannabinoids improve and promote a healthy homeostatic balance.
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