The Top 10 Cannabinoids How They Help You
Have you ever wondered how cannabis gets its medicinal effects?
Or wondered how getting high can be related to healing or the human body?
Here’s the deal:
Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds made by the cannabis plant that unlock its many healing secrets. There are over 100 known cannabinoids and these chemicals imitate the endocannabinoids naturally produced by humans. Do you know the shiny crystals you see on cannabis buds? Those are trichomes and that’s where cannabinoids are stored.
Human bodies (and many animals) have endocannabinoid systems, meaning that cannabinoids are naturally made so they can bind to endocannabinoid receptors creating changes in our physiology.
What does that mean?
How The EndoCannabinoid System Works
The endocannabinoid system was discovered only recently — in 1990. It is found throughout the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system and its job is to regulate the body, creating homeostasis or equilibrium in several processes. Homeostasis is the tendency of organisms to auto-regulate and balances their internal environment. Have you ever wondered how your body maintains a 98.6-degree temperature despite your activity level? Could you imagine if you had to think about maintaining your internal temperature? Thanks to the vitally important process of homeostasis, you don’t.
In today’s article, we’re going to break down the top 10 cannabinoids and how they help you. But first, let’s take a look at one of the main distinguishing factors when evaluating cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids can bind to receptor sites in either the brain (CB-1) or the body (CB-2). Cannabinoids will produce different effects on the body depending on which type of receptor site they bind to. Cannabis strains are filled with multiple cannabinoids that when consumed, bind to these sites, creating a symphony of effects on the body and thus corresponding to the wide variety of healing properties that we’ve read about scientifically and anecdotally. This is why one plant can treat many different conditions.
This is why states have multiple, unrelated qualifying medical conditions for a medical card. The combination of cannabinoids can drastically change your experience.
But that’s not all. Cannabinoids actually begin as cannabinoid acids that are activated when heated. This heat based activation, also known as decarboxylation, removes the acid from the molecule, turning it into a bioavailable compound that the body can register. The decarboxylated molecule is often more powerful and produces a different effect on the body than the acidic version. This is why you see both “THCA” and “THC” when looking at the contents of a cannabis strain.
Let’s dive in.
The Top 10 Cannabinoids
Delta 9 THC is arguably the most widely known cannabinoid. When people refer to “getting high” they are referring to the experience of the psychoactive effects of THC. THC begins as THCA, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, which is one of the most abundant cannabinoids found in cannabis. When THCA is heated and turned into THC, it binds to CB1 receptors in the brain producing psychoactive effects. THC is the only known cannabinoid to produce a psychoactive response, a high, and possibly, a therapeutic benefit.
CBDA, cannabidolic acid, is very abundant in the cannabis plant and turns into CBD when heated. Preclinical studies demonstrate that CBDA is a strong antiemetic. An antiemetic is used to treat vomiting and nausea and is often used to mitigate the side effects of opioid use or chemotherapy.
CBD has exploded in popularity in recent years. CBD has been the subject of much scientific interest after it hit the mainstream in 2014, following a CNN documentary in which a non-psychoactive, CBD rich cannabis strain, helped a five-year-old girl with severe epilepsy drastically reduce her daily seizure count. The FDA recently approved the first ever CBD-based drug for seizures. CBD is making waves in its ability to treat pain, nausea, anxiety, sleep disorders, and more.
This is a big one.
Cannabigerolic acid is a precursor to one of the three main cannabinoid lines: THCA, CBDA, and CBCA. CBGA is the chemical parent to THC and CBD. Do you follow?
Enzymes direct it down one of these lines before heat can change it into different forms. CBGA can help reduce inflammation and relieves pain. Inflammation is a defense mechanism; the body’s response to damage or irritants. It’s important because inflammation is the body actively trying to heal itself from a perceived danger, like a bacterial infection, injury, or food allergy.
Cannabigerolic is considered a minor cannabinoid because it is present in very low levels. It’s also powerful in treating glaucoma because it is a strong vasodilator meaning that it widens blood vessels. This helps increase blood flow and provide oxygen to the tissues that need it. CBG is showing promise as an effective antibacterial, anticancer, and neuroprotectant.
Cannabichromenic acid is one of the three main cannabinoid lines. It is used to treat fungal infections. Fungal infections like athlete’s foot, ringworm, and jock itch are commonly found on the skin.
CBC, cannabichromenic, binds poorly to CB1 receptors in the brain, but it binds well with other pain-related receptors, helping to increase the body’s levels of natural endocannabinoids. CBC may be impactful against cancer because of this. CBC has also been shown to be an inhibitor of acne. In conjunction with the THC and CBD, CBD also appears to have antidepressant effects.
THCA over time breaks down and turns into cannabinol (CBN). CBN has been shown to delay symptom onset of Lou Gehrig’s disease in mice indicating that it may help with motor neural diseases. CBN is also known for its anti-asthmatic, anti-inflammatory, and sedative properties.
Short for tetrahydrocannabivarin, THCV is similar to THC, but with a few less carbon atoms. THCV has been shown to be an anticonvulsant and has neuroprotective properties. THCV also may be an appetite suppressant, making it an agent for weight loss.
Cannabidivarin is a less potent version of CBD. The CBDV molecule is similar to CBD but has been changed in some ways. CBDV is an anti-nausea and anti-epileptic. CBDV is a powerful anticonvulsant. A 2012 study shows that CBDV stopped seizures in mice and rats.
Putting It All Together
Did you notice a lot of similarities? Cannabinoids are broadly known for their anti-seizure, anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, anti-fungal, and anti-cancer effects and science has just scratched the surface. How much these effects are expressed is a result of the entourage effect. The entourage effect states that the cannabinoids work better in tandem than they do alone. THC and CBD produce stronger healing properties together that are shown differently based on their concentrations and the presence of other cannabinoids. In addition, terpenes, the oils that give cannabis its fragrance, contribute to the therapeutic effects of the plant on the body when paired with cannabinoids. The powerful combination of these naturally occurring chemicals produces the medical effects that have given cannabis its reputation as a medical agent.
In California alone, there are 12 qualifying conditions for a medical cannabis card, including one described as, “any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that substantially limits the ability of the person to conduct one or more major life activities (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) or, if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the patient’s safety or physical or mental health.”
There are over 100 known cannabinoids and we’ve only briefly described ten. There is a lot more research to be done to understand the particular intricacies of each cannabinoid and how they interact with each other. However, the future looks promising.
For further reading, check out, “What Are Terpenes?”