All About Cannabinoids
I can’t believe that in all the time we’ve been writing our cannabis blogs, this is the first time we’re covering the subject of cannabinoids. We certainly talk enough about cannabinoids and their uses on our cannabis farm tours.
Over the years we’ve written blogs on travel, tourism, the Emerald Triangle, Mendocino County, medical cannabis, terpenes, Cannabis Indica and Sativa, Cannabis Ruderalis, the origins of 420, dabbing, cannabis legalization, Brittney Griner, cannabis appellations, fair trade cannabis, our YouTube page, small legacy family cannabis farms, you name it, but we’ve never covered cannabinoids – until now.
Maybe that’s because cannabinoids are such a fundamental cannabis subject. After all, cannabis is where cannabinoids get their name. Maybe the subject matter seemed too dense and daunting to tackle, but after writing the most comprehensive guide to cannabis terpenes on the internet, I was finally ready to dive into the subject of cannabinoids.
So without further ado, let’s get into it.
The 3 categories cannabinoids fall into:
Cannabinoids fall into three separate specific categories depending on the origin of the cannabinoids.
Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced by plants, the most prominent being cannabis, of course, but one reason plant medicines have been so common throughout history, is that plants are brilliant little chemical making factories. Other plants, (many you’ll recognize as medicinal) such as black pepper, cacao, echinacea, kava, licorice, liverwort, rhododendron, and the tea shrub, as well as black truffles, produce cannabinoids as well.
Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced by the body, not just the human body, but the bodies of all sorts of animals, primarily mammals, as far as we currently know. The reason cannabis has so many effects on our bodies is that we have receptor sites in our bodies and brain for cannabinoids which our own bodies manufacture to help us with healing, immunity, and other necessary functions.
Synthetic cannabinoids are cannabinoids that are created in a laboratory.
The Endocannabinoid system
The whole reason cannabinoids work on us is that our own bodies produce cannabinoids, and cannabinoids serve vital functions in the body in cognitive function, motor control, learning and memory, emotion, motivation, pain modulation, immunity, and healing, among other things.
What are cannabinoids, exactly?
Cannabinoids are neurotransmitters that bond with receptor sites in the body and the brain.
Research into the endocannabinoid system is still in its infancy. So far, we know of two types of cannabinoid receptors the human body has, but researchers suspect there are more. CB-1 receptors are located in the nervous system, primarily in brain cells, as well as in cells in the eyes, and reproductive organs. CB-2 receptors are located in the body’s immune system.
Like our knowledge of receptor sites, our knowledge of endocannabinoids is also somewhat limited.
The 2 main endocannabinoids we know of are Anandamide (AEA or arachidonoyl ethanolamide) and 2-archidonoyl glyerol (2-AG). They bond with both CB-1 and CB-2 receptors, sending chemical signals to the cells to perform different functions in healing, cognitive function, and pain relief.
For several years now, analogs of the phytocannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant, (primarily THC) have been synthesized in labs for one of two purposes.
Synthetic medical cannabinoids:
Dronabinol, also known as Marinol, Syndros, Reduvo, and Adversa, is a synthetic form of THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol). It was approved for medical use in 1985 by the FDA. In 1986 it was classified as a Schedule II drug, distinguishing it from the compound it’s an analog for by classifying it as having an accepted medical use, but with a high potential for abuse or addiction. In 1999 it was rescheduled as a Schedule III drug, a drug with a low to moderate potential for abuse or addiction. THC, the cannabinoid Dronabinol is modeled after, is still classified as a Schedule I drug, a drug with no accepted medical use, and a high potential for abuse or addiction.
The estimated lethal human dose of Dronabinol is 30 mg/kg.
There is no lethal dose of natural cannabis!
Synthetic party drug cannabinoids:
These go by names like K2, Spice, and Synthetic Marijuana. These are designer drugs created to bond with the CB2 receptors in the brain to approximate the high THC gives you. Often these chemicals are sprayed onto plant matter and smoked like weed, but make no mistake, these are not natural substances, and several deaths have been linked to these synthetic cannabinoids. Most of these drugs are unscheduled federally, though various states have banned them. K2 has been classified federally as a Schedule I drug, just like natural cannabis, though cannabis has never killed anyone, and has shown promise, for instance, in stopping seizures, while these designer drugs can actually induce seizures.
Our advice, avoid these synthetic THC analogs, and stick to the real thing.
Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced by plants. The cannabis plant is a cannabinoid machine, producing over 150 cannabinoids that we know of so far. Most cannabinoids haven’t been studied yet, but here’s what we know about some of the most common cannabinoids produced by cannabis plants.
THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol is the cannabinoid that gets you high – specifically Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC). THC bonds with the CB-1 receptors in the brain, as well as the CB-2 receptors in the immune system. THC is the only cannabinoid chemists have bothered to create synthetic versions of in labs, both for its therapeutic and psychedelic properties, but naturally occurring THC is the only non-toxic option.
You may have heard of Δ8-THC, another form of the THC molecule where the chemical bond is in the 8th carbon chain rather than the 9th. This makes it bond with the CB-1 receptor differently, and, although also psychoactive, it is 50-66% less potent. Δ8-THC is being marketed in some states where cannabis is illegal because Δ8-THC can be derived from hemp. Hemp (a form of Cannabis Sativa bred to produce less than 0.3% Δ9-THC) is legal in all 50 states since the adoption of the 2018 farm bill.
THC is an effective anti nausea drug that helps prevent the wasting syndrome of cancer and AIDS patients who can’t keep food down. Because THC is legally a schedule I drug, Doctors are not allowed to prescribe it. Instead they prescribe Dronabinol, a synthetic analog that not only has a toxic dosage, but exists only in pill form, and when patients can’t keep food down, they can’t keep pills down either. THC is also an appetite stimulant, an anti asthmatic, and an antispasmodic. THC has been shown to reduce dependency and withdrawal symptoms from opioids as well, and was prescribed for this since the 19th century.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of CBD, or Cannabidiol. CBD is the most common of all cannabinoids – more abundant than THC or any other. Like THC, CBD bonds with both the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors, but unlike THC, CBD doesn’t get you high. In fact, CBD blocks THC from bonding with CB-1 Receptors, mitigating its effects. If you get too high or paranoid, CBD can help you come down. CBD has shown great promise in both human and veterinary medicine. It’s a great inflammation reducer and stress reliever. CBD has proven effective, and has been approved as an anti seizure medication to treat Epilepsy in the U.S. CBD is also an anti-inflammatory, CBD has been prescribed for Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s Disease, muscle disorders, anxiety, and as a pain reliever. In concert with THC, CBD has been prescribed to treat Multiple Sclerosis.
CBG, or Cannabigerol is typically found in much lower quantities in cannabis plants than the two primary cannabinoids, as the plants chemically convert most of their CBG into CBD or THC, though some cultivars are bred to contain higher quantities of CBG. CBG bonds with both CB-1 and CB-2 receptors, and, unlike other cannabinoids, also bonds with alpha-2 adrenergic receptors and serotonin (5-HT) 1A receptors in the brain. CBG has been sold as a dietary supplement. CBG is not a scheduled substance like THC, so there aren’t the same barriers to medical research, and much is ongoing. CBG is effective as an appetite stimulant, and as a painkiller. CBG is an antibacterial, anticancer agent, and an anti-inflammatory. CBG reduces intraocular pressure, making it a promising treatment for Glaucoma. CBG is also neuroprotective, and has been shown as an effective treatment for Huntington’s Disease in mice. Studies have shown that CBG may also be an effective medication to regulate both heart rate and blood pressure.
CBC, or Cannabichromene, which also goes by the names cannabichrome, cannanbichromene, pentylcannabichromene. and cannabinochromene, is an acne medication, antidepressant, anti inflammatory, anti cancer agent, painkiller, and aids in cognitive function.. CBC bonds not only with CB receptors, (Though not as well with CB1 receptors as CB2 receptors) but also with TPRA1 and TPRV1 receptors, both of which play a role in the body’s perception of pain. When CBC bonds with these receptors, it causes the body to release its own endocannabinoids.
CBN, or Cannabinol is a mildly psychoactive cannabinoid, though it bonds more easily with CB2 receptors than CB1 receptors. CBN is primarily found in aged cannabis. CBN has been shown to be helpful as an anti-inflammatory, pain reducer, appetite stimulant and as an effective sleep aid when used in concert with THC. CBN has been shown to reduce intraocular pressure, making it an effective treatment for glaucoma. CBN is also a neuroprotectant, and has been shown to possibly delay the onset of ALS disease. CBN has potent antibacterial properties, and has been shown to be effective against strains of antibiotic resistant MRSA bacteria.
THCV, or Tetrahydrocannabivarin, like many other cannabinoids, is a painkiller and anti seizure medicine, as well as an anti-inflammatory and a neuroprotectant, showing some promise in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. THCV has shown some promise as an acne treatment, THCV may also be effective in treating fatty liver disease, The most exciting research on THCV shows it may be a promising new treatment for type 2 Diabetes. Where many cannabinoids are appetite stimulants, THCV is an appetite suppressant. THCV also regulates blood sugar, and some pharmaceutical companies are looking into using THCV in concert with Metformin to treat type 2 DIabetes. In medical studies THCV reduced glucose intolerance, and enhanced pancreatic function in test subjects suffering from type 2 Diabetes, THCV may be an antipsychotic as well, possibly because it has been shown to be a CB1 receptor blocker, which may also account for its appetite reducing properties.
THCA, or Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is the precursor to THC, and is found in raw, fresh cannabis. The THCA molecule does not bond with CB1 or CB2 receptors, so you can consume raw cannabis till the cows come home, and you won’t get high. To become THC, the THCA molecule must be broken down by heat in a process called decarboxylation. That’s why you have to smoke, vape, or eat cannabis in baked goods to get baked.
THCA is an anti-inflammatory and an anti nausea medication. THCA is thought to be neuroprotective, and may help with Huntinmgton’s disease and seizure disorders like Epilepsy. THCA also shows promise in helping with colonic issues like IBS and Colitis.
CBDA, or Cannabidiolic acid is the chemical precursor to CBD, and the most common cannabinoid in hemp. It is also common on other species of cannabis. CBDA is a fairly unstable molecule, and decarboxylates fairly quickly. CBDA is an effective anti nausea agent, blocking serotonin that can cause nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Several antidepressants work by blocking serotonin receptors as well, so CBDA may be a non toxic alternative to0 prescription antidepressants. Like THCA, CBDA doesn’t bond with CB receptors, but it works effectively as an anti-inflammatory by blocking the enzyme cyclooxygenase-2, which causes inflammation in the body after infection or injury, CBDA is also a powerful anti convulsive agent.
The entourage effect
These cannabinoids have been studied in isolation, but the therapeutic effects of cannabis are attributed not to any one cannabinoid or terpene, but to how they work together. This is known as the entourage effect. Just as most nutritional experts will tell you it’s better to get your vitamins from plants, rather than isolated in pill form, getting these medicines together from the whole plant helps in their bioavailability and efficacy, not to mention the effects of the hundreds of cannabinoids and terpenes cannabis produces that we haven’t even studied yet.
Cannabis as medicine
Between this article on cannabinoids, our article on terpenes, and thousands of years of human history, it should be abundantly clear that cannabis is, and always has been a medicine, and needs to be descheduled. If artificial cannabinoid analogs have an accepted medical use, obviously the cannabinoids they are modeled after do, too. As I have mentioned before, cannabis was removed from the United States Pharmacopoeia, not by doctors, but by politicians, to the objections of the AMA.
It’s high time we put cannabis back in The United States Pharmacopoeia, fully legalize and deschedule cannabis, allow medical professionals to prescribe cannabis, allow cannabis to be a common over the counter medicine, and stop vilifying this important plant once and for all.