Get to Know the Most Important Cannabinoids
Introducing cannabinoids: a recently unknown substance that has a massive influence on our physiological inner workings. Without cannabinoids, humans would have difficulty managing pain, fighting off disease, regulating emotions, and much more. When scientists discovered that the cannabinoids in cannabis mimicked the cannabinoids produced in our bodies, it opened an entirely new era of marijuana as medicine.
What are Cannabinoids?
Even if you don’t know what a cannabinoid is, you likely know of some of the more famous examples, like THC and CBD. Cannabinoids are a naturally occurring compound. The human body actually produces its own cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids. These little chemical communicators respond to a variety of internal or external stressors.
Their job is to travel through the body, through something called the endocannabinoid system, to respond to perceived biological emergencies.
For example, they play a crucial component in our immune system, but also play a vital role in our mental wellbeing. Whatever the cause, they seek out the issue and activate various endocannabinoid receptors, primarily the CB1 and CB2 receptors. These endocannabinoids and the two receptors operate like keys fitting into locks. When taken together they form the endocannabinoid system.
There are also cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. These are called phytocannabinoids (or plant-based). For the remainder of the article, the term cannabinoid will be used to describe the plant-based variety. Interestingly, the cannabinoids from cannabis mimic the ones in the body and are now known to regulate the endocannabinoid system in similar ways.
Experts have uncovered evidence of dozens of different cannabinoids in weed. Each cannabinoid has dramatically different effects on our endocannabinoid system. Some reduce pain, others sooth psoriasis. Still, others help fight cancerous cells. Every day it new cannabinoids are discovered, followed by new medical applications.
What are the Top 10 Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoid research is an ever-evolving science. After all, most experts believe some strains of marijuana might have upwards of 60 plus phytocannabinoids. Just as one study comes out about the potential benefits of one cannabinoid, more mysteries are uncovered, and more possibilities open up. Right now, it’s a never-ending cycle of new exciting research about what each of the known cannabinoids can do.
Here are the top ten cannabinoids, listed in no particular order, with the most research about them thus far.
Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
The only cannabinoid amongst the dozens known to science which causes the euphoric high so associated with marijuana use. It’s also the single cannabinoid responsible for all the legal problems cannabis experienced in the 20th century as well. Why would there be any issues with a plant that doesn’t alter your perception of reality? It is why weed makes you high, and why today’s weed is so potent. It is also the cannabinoid first known to scientists.
One of the reasons why the THC cannabinoid has such a powerful influence over the human mind, especially in higher concentrations, is because it directly binds to the CB1 receptor. Other cannabinoids do not. The CB1 receptor concentrates in the brain, the central nervous system and around vital organs.
Because THC interacts with CB1, it is a powerful influence on pain regulation. It is so powerful that cannabis smokers are more likely to take fewer pain prescriptions. Plus THC helps reduce pain associated with chemotherapy and is exceptionally beneficial for neuropathic pain. THC is also used to treat inflammation, produce feelings of euphoria, reduce nausea and vomiting, soothe skin irritations, and much more.
The next most popular cannabinoid these days is well known because it doesn’t create any euphoria, or trigger episodes of anxiety, panic or psychoactivity. It was the first cannabinoid popularized for its medicinal capacities alone, and not its ability to get the user stoned. It was first made famous in the strain Charlotte’s Web, which was developed to treat children with drug-resistant epilepsy. They obviously cannot use high THC strains, and therefore other strains were developed with extremely low ratios of CBD to THC.
Unlike THC, CBD does not bind directly to any receptor, but it does seem indirectly to activate them. For example, it doesn’t bind with CB1 but will trigger the CB1 receptor to release a locked THC molecule sooner than it would usually. This means strains of marijuana with both CBD and THC will have a less intense and less overwhelming high experience.
The primary benefit of CBD is as an anti-inflammatory. It could even work better than prescriptions in some cases. As mentioned, it is a compelling method for treating drug-resistant epilepsy, especially in children. Also, in an often replicated study, CBD has shown positive benefit for reducing social anxiety, and in other studies, it alleviated mild depression. When it comes to CBD, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Although still extremely rare, a few notable cannabinoids have started to appear on dispensary labels recently: THC, CBD, CBN, and CBG. The is still only limited research about CBG, but as with other lesser known cannabinoids, so far it’s all incredibly positive.
So far, the research suggests that CBG has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and pain relieving properties. It also indicates that CBG could be a key player in the critical fight against the potentially deadly MRSA bacteria found in hospitals everywhere. Considering anti-biotic research has come to a relative standstill in recent years, the possibility presented by CBG is especially exciting.
Getting deeper into the top ten list, the body of research starts to shrink. Not surprisingly though, its really only been 20 to 25 years since the discovery of the endocannabinoid system itself. It takes time for the research to explore how the system works, and how cannabinoid system influences it. Plus, the prohibition against cannabis is still a huge regulatory hurdle to cross for most scientists.
The remaining cannabinoids on the list likely won’t show up at the dispensary anytime soon, as it could be years before many of the lesser known cannabinoids are adequately understood. Cannabichromene falls into this category.
Like CBD, CBC seems to reduce inflammation and boost the pain relieving characteristics of other cannabinoids like CBD or THC. This is known as the entourage effect. By itself, it’s not thought to have many benefits for pain relief, but it seems to have a complementary impact when combined with other cannabinoids. The entourage effect is well documented in the medical research community.
Many of the lesser known cannabinoids, while originating in cannabis, are not naturally found in the plant itself. What does this mean? Some cannabinoids like CBN, are synthesized through heat or consumption. Many people are shocked to learn that despite what most of us believe, marijuana doesn’t actually contain THC.
The raw plant contains cannabinoids acids, not cannabinoids. So THC comes from THCA; a cannabinoid acid. Once smoked, the cannabinoid acids break down into the cannabinoids we know and love, one of which is CBN.
Cannabinol is a beneficial sleep-aid and alongside CBD, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. There are some studies which have linked CBN to the fight against MRSA. This potential has led medical researchers to ask if CBN could it be the newest form of antibiotic? In some laboratory studies, it has also proven successful for fighting certain cancers, like breast cancer.
The nuances of cannabis phytocannabinoids go deep, especially when it comes to CBL. Just like CBN, CBL doesn’t exist in the natural raw form of marijuana. Instead, CBL exists only once cannabis has been absorbed into the bloodstream and filtered through the liver. This process is called metabolization.
When ingested, cannabinoids are eventually broken down and restructured for easy removal. For example, THC metabolizes into THC-COOH, a good thing to know for any upcoming blood or urine tests. In the same manner, CBL is formerly a cannabis compound, transformed by the liver. Experts believe it may come from CBC.
At the moment there are no-known medicinal applications for CBL. The research has not yet started.
Another degradative product, CBE forms only once processed through the liver. Like CBL, it does not exist naturally in the raw cannabis plant but is a metabolite created from other cannabinoids. Scientists believe it comes from CBD. Little research exists to this date about possible uses for this metabolite cannabinoid.
Unknown, however, PubMed notes there is one patent pending for CBE.
Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
Not to be confused with THC, THCV is what is called a neutral antagonist. It binds to the CB1 receptor no matter what state the receptor is in: active or inactive. In high doses, it has found to bind to both CB2 and CB1 receptors.
The scientific study of THCV is still developing. There are only limited studies available with limited and preliminary results. What the initial investigations do suggest is the potential for the treatment of inflammation and as an anticonvulsant. Like THC, it might also trigger an associated euphoria and have pain relieving properties. The possible different euphoric experiences of THC and THCV is not known at this time.
An analog of CBD, CBDV is only minimally understood, and rarely discussed outside the research. It has however shown promise for a few key areas of therapeutic study.
CBDV is an extremely viable option for suppressing drug-resistant forms of epilepsy. Like CBD and most other cannabinoids, it is non-psychoactive making it much more applicable for use in young patients. The preliminary research indicates it could be useful for a wide range of seizure models.
One of the newest additions to the known cannabinoid family, CBT was recently isolated in 2014 by a Jamaican researcher exploring new compounds in the local island strains. No research has had time to explore its potential yet, but according to the researcher, its basic structure is similar to THC leading him to be hopeful.
Its possible therapeutic applications remain to be seen.