Cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoid system
Cannabinoids are the active chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. There are over 80 of them and they have various effects on the human body. In fact, the human body has its own cannabinoid system called Endocannabinoid system (ECS). It is a group of cannabinoid receptors which are located throughout the body, mainly in the brain and nervous system. The receptors are like locks and the cannabinoids are keys to the lock. When the receptors in the ECS are flooded with cannabinoids after ingesting, vaporizing or smoking cannabis they become activated. The ECS have an influence on several physiological processes. For more information on the ECS , please read our previous article here.
Cannabinoid receptors are activated by 3 groups of ligands – endocannabinoids (produced by mammillary bodies), plant cannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids. All of them are fat-soluble compounds. There have been 2 types of receptors found in the nervous system, CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptor is located mainly in the brain, nervous, system, liver, kidneys, and lungs. Whereas CB2 receptors are found in the immune system.
What are cannabinoids?
Now we know what the cannabinoid receptors are and what their function is in the human body, let’s take a look at the effects and characteristics of cannabinoids.
The effect a cannabinoid has depends on the receptor they bind to. Each cannabinoid binds to either the CB1 or CB2 receptor. Products and strains have been developed to deliver larger doses of different cannabinoids.
THC is the primary psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant and is responsible for the high so commonly associated with the plant. You can find THC inside the dried female cannabis flower. If the plant is not decarboxylated, THC is present in the form of an acid, called THCa (more about it later). Male plants contain THC as well, but not as much as female varieties. THC is not legal in the majority of countries around the world due to its psychoactive properties.
Cannabidiol is the second most popular cannabinoid. CBD is anti-psychotic which means it reduces the psychoactive effect of THC. Contrary to THC, CBD is legal in many countries around the world and it has become more popular for its relaxing effect and ability to have beneficial effects for the skin. Recently, growers started to breed strains with a higher ratio of CBD to THC for a production of CBD-based products.
Cannabichromene is the third most common cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. In some strains, CBC can dominate CBD in terms of concentration. As well as CBD, Cannabichromene is non-psychoactive.
A study from 1981 on CBC from the university in Mississippi mentions that “antibacterial activity is strong in the compound, and antifungal activity was mild to moderate“. As well as CBD, CBC can help with relaxation and well-being for body and mind.
Cannabinol emerges when the dried flower gets a bit stale. THC and THCa break down into CBN over time, so the longer the dried flower sits out on open air, the more CBN can be found in the plant. Due to this, CBN increases the effect of THC. The findings of this cannabinoid are conflicting for human and animal models so far, and further research must be performed.
Cannabigerol is present in young plants. You can extract CBG from budding plants during the flowering stage. Therefore it is hard to find it in large quantities. CBG is non-psychoactive, so you can cultivate it via hemp. Breeders started to create strains with the recessive gene which increases the CBG level. The health improving potential of CBG is one of the primary focuses for cannabinoid studies these days.
Tetrahydrocannabivarin is a psychoactive compound like THC. It is also used as a biochemical marker for illicit drugs and is easily detectable in a drug test. It is similar to THC in molecular structure but provides different effects. THCv is not as well-understood compared to other cannabinoids, but we can expect more and more studies on the compound, as well as new strains bred to contain high concentrations of THCv.
So far we don’t know much about CBDv, only that it is very similar to CBD. Again, it provides you with the same sense of well-being and relaxation, but no psychoactive effects. Only focused research on this compound will allow us to understand its true potential.
Nutritional cannabinoids THCa and CBDa
These two cannabinoids are found in cannabis before it is decarboxylated. You can find them in raw cannabis plants and you can eat them as a nutritional supplement and/or use it for topical application. Both compounds are non-psychoactive, however, once cannabis is decarboxylated, THCa transforms into THC and becomes psychoactive. Similarly, CBDa transforms in CBD , but as you already know, CBD in the non-psychoactive compound!
Here was a brief description of 9 out of the 80+ most common cannabinoids found in cannabis. However, the full potential of the plant and its constituent compounds is far from being realized. Until we have dedicated cannabinoid research, the full potential of the plant will be left in the dark.