According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, cannabis is an annual plant belonging to the family Cannabaceae of the nettle order (Urticales). We all know and love the flowers of this plant for their healing and recreational properties. But what is really inside them? We know for a fact that cannabis produces a series of unique chemical compounds that are known as cannabinoids. There are over 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant (albeit most of them at trace amounts).
In this article, we will take a closer look at the major types of cannabinoids and their effects on the human body. So, let’s dive in!
Where Do Cannabinoids Come From
If you are reading this, you probably already know of THC and CBD, the most prevalent cannabinoids in the marijuana plant. Their production is triggered by a natural process called decarboxylation. It is this process that triggers the synthesis of certain cannabinoid acids that provide us with a blissful touch of THC (or the soothing effects of CBD).
This is precisely why we consume cannabis either by combusting (spliffs, joints, blunts) or heating (vaporizers) and not by eating it raw. You can certainly try it, but that would be a waste of good weed.
The best-known cannabinoid acids are:
- CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)
- THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
- CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)
- CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid)
- CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid)
- THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid)
- CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid)
- CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid)
The names of these acids should give you a hint about the respective cannabinoids they release. That said, THCA and CBDA are found in greater numbers, followed by CBGA and CBCA. CBGA is particularly important, as it is the basis for the synthesis of the other three acids.
Contrary to cannabinoids they produce, the acids themselves have no psychoactive properties. However, research has shown that they may have antibiotic properties, due to the fact that they are part of the cannabis plant immune system.
That’s why many growers deliberately put their plants under stressful situations. When facing a threat, plants produce cannabinoids to defend themselves, increasing THC content. However, these methods require a fair amount of knowledge. There is a fine line between pushing your plants and killing them, so don’t try this unless you know what you are doing.
A List of Major Cannabinoids (and their Effects)
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that interact with internal cannabinoid receptors throughout our body. These receptors often control the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, essentially “telling” it what to feel. Apart from marijuana, trace amounts of cannabinoids exist in other plants too, while all mammals produce endocannabinoids. Synthetic cannabinoids are used by scientists for lab testing.
The most prevalent cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant are:
- THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)
- THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
- CBD (Cannabidiol)
- CBDA (Cannabidiolic Acid)
- CBN (Cannabinol)
- CBG (Cannabigerol)
- CBC (Cannabichromene)
- CBL (Cannabicyclol)
- CBV (Cannabivarin)
- THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin)
- CBDV (Cannabidivarin)
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the most prevalent of all chemical compounds in cannabis. These compounds form in the trichomes of the cannabis flower. Trichomes are little glands on the cannabis flower that are almost invisible to the naked eye. However, if you happen to own a macro lens for your camera or mobile phone you can clearly check them out yourself!
The prohibition of cannabis was critical to the lack of research on the effects of cannabinoids. Of course, we know that THC is a psychoactive component that intoxicates the brain. However, CBD has certain medicinal properties that are being extensively checked by the scientific community.
We all know THC and we’ve all experienced its effects in one way or another. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol activates the CB1 receptor in the body, which in turn induces the production of two internal cannabinoids: Anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol. These endocannabinoids are responsible for releasing endorphins in the brain, hence the euphoric feeling.
It is said that THC has some medical benefits on people who suffer from depression and appetite loss. However, since it is a psychoactive compound, people who suffer from insomnia, anxiety or PTSD might want to look at something less volatile. High-THC strains tend to have unpredictable effects and are generally better for recreational use or pain alleviation.
THC and CBD work perfectly in synergy through their differences, just like all power duos (Adventure Time anybody?). CBD is exactly the opposite of THC: it’s nonpsychoactive and it counters the negative effects of THC.
CBD does not interact much with the two primary cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) but shows affinity to other receptors in the body. Scientists claim that CBD has a lot to do with the release of adenosine, which regulates sleep patterns and pain management. CBD oils, tinctures, and extracts are used widely in conditions such as epilepsy and auto-immune diseases that cause inflammation.
Cannabichromene (or CBC) is the third most prevalent phytocannabinoid. It is also non-psychoactive, but it does not counteract the effects of THC like CBD.
There has been evidence that suggests CBC has anti-inflammatory, antiviral and anti-fungal effects. Research conducted in 2010, showed that CBC along with CBD and THC have antidepressant effects, while other papers claim that CBC can promote neurogenesis.
Cannabinol is a compound released as THCA degrades. If you leave a cannabis bud sitting around for quite some time, its CBN content will increase. This cannabinoid has been studied quite a bit and there is research that suggests it has antibiotic, anti-asthmatic and pain-relieving properties, and it can also be used as an appetite stimulant and has been found to reduce the onset of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
CBGA, the acidic form of CBG is the “mother cannabinoid” from which all of the other major cannabinoids stem. You will not find great amounts of CBG in mature cannabis plants, as by that time it has already been converted into THC or CBD.
It is said that CBG has some pain-alleviating properties, with some studies suggesting it has a higher efficacy than CBD in neuropathic pain. Also, some studies have shown that CBG has certain antidepressant effects. Also, CBG is studied for its effects on conditions like glaucoma, different types of cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and Crohn’s disease.
THCV is similar to THC but has only a fraction of its psychoactive capacity. That, of course, can be a good thing for medicinal users, because it can balance out the negative effects of pure THC. Research has found that THCV had neuroprotective and antiepileptic properties when tested in lab mice.
How Do Cannabinoids Interact With the Endocannabinoid System
Phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids found in plants) are effective simply because humans have an internal system that can interact with them. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) has been a subject of much research lately with all the talk about legalization and the medicinal effects of THC and CBD. Cannabinoid receptors exist throughout our bodies in various concentrations.
Different compounds interact with them in many interesting ways. For example, THC’s psychoactive effects are a result of its affinity for the CB1 receptor, that can be found in greater numbers in the brain. On the other hand, CBD releases anandamide, a natural endocannabinoid.
Cannabinoids do not tie with one specific receptor, nor do they interact exclusively with the ECS. CBD, for example, works with many receptors in the brain, offering varied effects. This is partly the reason why cannabis is difficult to research: Slight fluctuations in the chemical balance of plants can produce different effects.
Other Types of Cannabinoids
There are two other types of cannabinoids:
- Endocannabinoids, that our own body produces;
- Synthetic, for use in lab experiments.
Endocannabinoids are intercellular lipid molecules that activate the cannabinoid receptors found in the human nervous system. The endocannabinoid system plays a role in major physiological and cognitive processes, such as pain regulation, appetite, memory, and mood.
Their function is similar to neurotransmitters such as dopamine, but endocannabinoids are used in retrograde signaling between neurons. The exact synthesis and role of cannabinoids is still a matter of further scientific research.
Some of the most prevalent endocannabinoids are:
- Arachidonoylethanolamine (Anandamide or AEA)
- 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG)
- 2-Arachidonyl glyceryl ether
- N-Arachidonoyl dopamine (NADA)
- Virodhamine (OAE)
- Lysophosphatidylinositol (LPI)
Anandamide borrows its name from the Sanskrit word for bliss and has effects similar to THC. It binds to the CB1 receptor and induces feelings of euphoria by triggering the release of endorphins. 2-arachidonoylglycerol binds in both the CB1 and CB2 receptors and is found mainly in the brain. Other endocannabinoids exist in trace amounts and usually work in tandem with the two major types.
Artificial cannabinoids were first developed in the early 1940s by a group of scientists led by Roger Adams. The first attempts tried to mimic the cannabinoids found in plants, although newer versions are based on the structure of endocannabinoids.
Synthetic versions of cannabinoids are extremely useful in experiments, as they help scientists control their efficacy and reach more accurate conclusions by modifying the molecules. However, recreational use of synthetic cannabinoids can lead to poisoning or even death.
Some of the best known synthetic cannabinoids are:
- Dronabinol (Marinol)
- Nabilone (Cesamet, Canemes)
- Rimonabant (SR141716)
Manipulating THC and CBD While Growing
Although there is no surefire way of increasing the content of minor cannabinoids, there are several tricks for increasing CBD and THC. Of course, it is impossible to make a strain go above its genetic predisposition. What growers can do is simply help it reach its potential by employing some simple tricks.
How to Increase CBD
The first and most obvious answer is to get a high-CBD strain. Some of the highest CBD marijuana varieties currently on the market are:
- CBD Shark
- Med Tree
- Colorado Cherry
These strains contain really low amounts of psychoactive THC. Therefore, they are more suitable for people who want to grow marijuana as medication. Bear in mind that CBD is the second most prevalent cannabinoid, so you shouldn’t look so much into the CBD content itself, but rather, focus on the CBD to THC ratio. The greater the ratio, the more potent will the CBD be.
Another thing you can do to increase the CBD content of your plant is to harvest it at the right time. CBD forms as THC degrades, so wait until your marijuana plant reaches the late stage of flowering. When it does, the trichomes will start turning amber/brown-ish. This is precisely the time when you should harvest for optimal CBD results.
How to Increase THC
The instructions are pretty much the same. If you want your high to be punchy and hyper, choose one of the following strains:
- Gorilla Glue
- Girl Scout Cookies (might have a better chance of getting it if you live in California)
- Sour Diesel
- Pineapple Chunk
- Bruce Banner (yes, from The Hulk)
All of these strains contain an insane amount of THC (20%+) so exercise caution when using them. The tactic of getting more THC from your plants is to harvest at the right time. This time, you need to wait until the trichomes are milky white (and some of them brown). This is when you will have hit maximum THC. Also, you might get results if you crank up the lighting during the flowering process, to give your plants an extra edge before the final push!