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There are over one hundred compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant called cannabinoids. These are the things that produce the array of effects cannabis has on the body. Since there are so many of them, it has been a tough challenge for scientists to isolate and study each one – THC was only isolated in the 1980s. As a result, we don’t know a lot about some of the cannabinoids that come in lower concentrations.
The effects of cannabis are, nevertheless, intriguing, which is why science is making more and more breakthroughs when it comes to cannabinoids. Below is a list of the top 10 cannabinoids we know about and what they do, but first let’s look a little at how cannabinoids work in general.
How do cannabinoids work?
Our body has a network of cannabinoid receptors that can interact with any external cannabinoids we ingest. While we do produce our own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, they don’t react in exactly the same way as those found in plants, called phytocannabinoids.
We will be focusing on phytocannabinoids in this article, which occur naturally in the cannabis plant. Each cannabinoid interacts in some way or another with this network of cannabinoid receptors – the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Since the ECS is a vital system which regulates a vast number of bodily functions, each cannabinoid has very different effects.
Here’s a list of the top 10…
If you’ve heard of any cannabinoids, THC is probably up there with one of the first you heard about. This is the compound that produces the psychoactive effects and the high that people encounter when they ingest marijuana. Basically, THC is what gets you high.
THC was first isolated in 1988 by Dr. Allyn Howlett. It was actually the isolation of THC that led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.
THC works by binding to the CB1 receptor, which is found predominantly in the brain and central nervous system. This causes the ECS to stimulate dopamine release, creating a sense of euphoria and relaxation – the ‘high.’ The distribution of these receptors and the way that dopamine behaves is why being high affects movement, memory, concentration and sensory perception.
In small doses, THC is generally well-tolerated, although inexperienced users may not handle the effects all too well. Furthermore, excessive consumption of THC can lead to paranoia, hallucinations, and anxiety.
In terms of its positive effects, THC might be able to reduce nausea and sickness, increase appetite, prevent seizures, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and relieve pain and inflammation. This is why some cannabis-derived medications (like Epidiolex) still contain THC despite its psychoactive properties.
Another very well-known cannabinoid is CBD. Currently, more and more publicity is being gained by CBD as people begin to realize its potential therapeutic benefits. CBD, unlike THC, does not produce intoxicating effects and is safe for humans to take. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that it is generally well-tolerated in humans and does not have the potential for abuse.
CBD does not bind directly with any cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it indirectly influences the body to naturally produce more endocannabinoids, thus supporting a healthy, functioning body. This is why CBD is thought to have medical benefits – it stimulates a healthy endocannabinoid system.
Additionally, CBD reacts with areas of the brain such as dopamine receptors. There is some ongoing research into CBD use for the treatment of mood disorders like depression, and this interaction between the brain and CBD is why it might work.
It is thought that CBD might be able to assist the body with a range of medical complications, including chronic pain, mood disorders, and more.
CBN is actually derived from THC, but it is not nearly as potent. It is not found in large quantities in a ripe marijuana plant, but mostly in older, degraded plant material. The image of it as degraded THC is why people pay little attention to it, but little old CBN might be able to offer some benefits of its own.
Exposing THC to heat or light for a long time causes it to turn into CBN, which is why it is found in older plant material. In people who are sensitive to THC, CBN could be beneficial as a sedative, which might help insomniacs. It has previously been reported that CBN is the most sedative out of all the cannabinoids discovered to date – 5 mg of CBN is equivalent to 10 mg of Valium in terms of relaxation.
It’s also possible that CBN can relieve pain and potentially reduce the risk of seizures when used in conjunction with THC. However, it is not as powerful an anti-convulsant as CBD.
In short, CBN has the benefits of relaxing your body, relieving pain, and perhaps even reducing the effects of psoriasis, and it’s not as intoxicating as THC!
Technically, CBG is the chemical parent of CBD and THC. In other words, CBG breaks down into CBD and THC as the plant continues to grow.
There is usually less than 1% CBG in the marijuana plant, but this tiny amount is essential for producing other cannabinoids such as the ones listed above. As breeders are looking to increase the cannabinoid content of their crop, experimentation is occurring to try and increase the CBG content first of all.
But it doesn’t just have the important role of producing other cannabinoids. On its own, CBG might be able to relieve pain and inflammation. For example, a 2015 study found that CBG could help in the treatment of neurological disorders like Huntington Disease, in which patients experience uncontrolled movements, emotional problems, and loss of cognition. The study demonstrated that CBG might reduce inflammation, improve motor skills, and improve levels of antioxidants.
We will likely see more of this cannabinoid in the future.
THCV has a similar molecular structure to THC, which is why their names are similar. However, they strangely have very different effects.
While THC stimulates the appetite, THCV appears to suppress the appetite. This means it could be ideal for weight loss and diabetes, as some research has evidenced that THCV might be able to help regulate blood sugar levels.
And while high quantities of THC can cause anxiety and paranoia, it is thought that THCV can reduce panic attacks – all without having an impact on the emotions of the user. Most anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication affect all emotions, meaning that patients experience no mood at all, rather than a low mood. However, THCV appears to be able to offer a reduction in anxiety without suppressing other emotions.
Current research into THCV is looking into it as a potential treatment for osteoporosis, as it is known to stimulate bone growth. It might also be a viable avenue for Alzheimer’s, as it is thought to improve moto control, tremors, and brain lesions.
Perhaps we have been paying too much attention to THC!
CBDV is similar to CBD in terms of molecular structure. It too is non-psychoactive and is also known to have some potential medical benefits. As of yet, there isn’t a whole lot of research into CBDV as a stand-alone cannabinoid, but it is thought that it could relieve nausea, and play a role in helping with other neurological conditions.
Just like CBD, CBDV could reduce the reduce inflammation and preventing chronic pain.
To date, CBDV has been used to help treat a variety of medical conditions. Most studies have been conducted on animals, but it appears that more research into CBDV is needed to confirm these amazing properties.
CBC is one of the “big six” cannabinoids prominent in medical research. It doesn’t get nearly as much attention as CBD or THC, though, despite the fact that it could be very helpful for certain people.
CBC is non-psychoactive so, like CBD, it won’t get you high. This is because it doesn’t bind well to CB1 receptors in the brain, but it does bind well with other receptors in the body such as the vanilloid receptor 1 (TRPV1) and transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1). Both of these receptors are linked to pain perception, meaning that CBC can reduce pain by stimulating the creation of natural endocannabinoids like anandamide. It might also be able to reduce feelings of depression.
Scientists currently think that CBC is more beneficial in the entourage effect than alone. This refers to the idea that cannabinoids work in conjunction with one another to produce their benefits – they are stronger together than alone.
THCA is quite similar to THC, but it is not intoxicating and does not produce a high. It is a part of hemp, in strains where the THC has been bred out of the plant. THCA can only be found in raw, fresh, undried cannabis, as exposing it to intense heat and drying converts it into THC.
To date, there has not been much research done on THCA’s potential effects on the body. There was a 2013 study conducted on rats which suggests that THCA could be an antiemetic, meaning that it could treat nausea. This study also suggests that THCA would not get the user high, despite being so closely related to THC. It is also thought that THCA could be an anti-inflammatory.
Unfortunately, more research is required into this compound.
CBDA is converted into CBD later in the plant’s life cycle. It is a common compound in fresh cannabis plants. Some research suggests that the compounds in raw cannabis plants could be very healthy, and yet CBDA is understudied much like THCA.
The early research into this compound suggests that it could be an effective antiemetic – animal tests have demonstrated this, along with the fact that it could be a natural pain reliever.
CBDA is non-psychoactive, meaning that its potential benefits should be explored in further detail.
CBGa is a really vital compound in cannabis – without it, the plant would have no medicinal properties whatsoever!
Sadly, CBGa doesn’t provide the health benefits on its own, but it is responsible for the creation of many other cannabinoids including THC, CBD, CBG and CBC. Through biosynthesis, CBGa constructs these compounds that we all can reap the benefits from.
Most research into CBGa has focused on its role in creating other cannabinoids, but this job alone makes it a very important component of the cannabis plant.
Despite the fact that only CBD and THC are highly publicised, many of the other cannabinoids in marijuana are just as important and beneficial. More research is certainly needed into many of them, but preliminary studies are showing just how amazing the properties of cannabinoids could be.
From relieving pain and inflammation to acting as a neuroprotectant, the possibilities appear to be endless!
Hopefully, as more and more comes to light about the positive effects of cannabinoids, cannabis will lose its negative stigma and more people will have access to compounds that can improve their quality of life.