Today, it is unclear just how many cannabinoids and other active compounds are found in the cannabis plant. Some sources say 80 or more cannabinoids exist, while others claim the infamous herb has more than 400 chemical compounds available. Cannabinoid effects vary greatly from one to the other. While we know the Entourage Effect, or the combination of compounds, can alter the way individual cannabinoids react or the effects they cause, it is still important to understand these molecules on an individual basis as well.
These are a few of the most common cannabinoids discussed in cannabis literature.
Tetrahydrocannabinol – THC/THCa
Tetrahydrocannabinol is the most common, and sought after, of the cannabinoids. However, there are multiple forms of THC which must be taken into consideration.
THCa is a cannabinoid found in high quantities in raw plant material. Although THCa won't create the mental euphoria generally associated with cannabis, it is suggested to provide a world of health and wellness benefits. THCa is thought to be a powerful anti-inflammatory, it is neuroprotective, fights nausea and appetite loss, and may even slow down certain cancers. Many nutritional experts agree juicing with cannabis greens provides a plethora of advantages to the consumer without the high.
In order for THCa to become a potent powerhouse of psychoactive energy, it must first be activated or converted to THC. Activation requires a process called decarboxylation, better known as "decarbing." When smoking cannabis, THCa is converted to Delta-9-THC by the heat of the flame.
After being decarbed, THCa converts to delta-9-THC, the cannabinoid known to produce the "high" associated with cannabis consumption because it attaches to CB1 receptors to produce cerebral, euphoric, and psychoactive effects. Effects of euphoria, short-term memory impairment, increased heart rate, increased appetite, along with dry mouth, and dry eyes are common side effects of THC. People also report an altered perception of time while under the influence of THC.
This much less talked about cannabinoid, Delta-8-THC, is beginning to get the attention it deserves as the National Cancer Institute defines this cannabinoid as "An analog of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with antiemetic (nausea), anxiolytic (anxiety), appetite-stimulating, analgesic (pain), and neuroprotective properties." This cannabinoid is starting to appear in the medical and recreational markets in California and Washington as an isolate or concentrate.
This is another common form of THC, which is formed by metabolization within the body. Specifically, the liver produces certain enzymes which break down THC. 11-Hydroxy-THC is a metabolite of Delta-9-THC, which is created when THC goes through digestion. Interestingly, 11-Hydroxy-THC is unique, because it is more potent than the original cannabinoid. In fact, 11-Hydroxy-THC is thought to be as much as three times as potent, which explains why edibles provide stronger, longer-lasting psychoactive effects.
The Effects of THC
These various forms of THC have been shown to have a wide variety of health benefits including treating pain, inflammation, and muscle spasms, as well as act as a muscle relaxant. A study published in 1991 showed THC is a strong neuroprotectant and antioxidant, which has 20 times the anti-inflammatory strength as aspirin, and twice the strength of hydrocortisone.
Another study published by U.S. researchers in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1974, showed THC's ability to help fight leukemia and shrink lung cancer tumors. A more recent study out of London in 2017, showed the exact same results. In fact, new studies are emerging every day from all over the world showing THC has incredible pharmacology potential.
Myths about THC
Thanks to prohibition propaganda there are several myths about THC, which need to be dispelled.
It's addictive – Of all the drugs, marijuana is actually the least addictive. While cannabis can be considered habit-forming, only about 9 percent of consumers will develop a dependence on it – and even this number is highly debated.
It causes psychosis – Oh, the lovely remnants of "Reefer Madness." While some people with certain existing mental disorders should be cautious when consuming high doses of THC, developing a mental disorder in a healthy individual is rare, if not unheard of.
It causes laziness – Only if you let it. Ending the day with a nice stony indica not only calms the mind, it relaxes the body. As we learn about the different effects caused by different phenotypes and strains, this can be avoided by using more energy-inducing strains and leaving the heavy strains for pain, sleep, and relaxation.
Cannabidiol – CBD/CBDa
Another common cannabinoid climbing the popularity charts, cannabidiol is most well-known for its miraculous ability to help intractable cases of pediatric epilepsy. This cannabinoid affects a wide variety of ailments and may be linked to hundreds of health issues in the human population. Additionally, with a total lack of psychoactive effects, this cannabinoid provides healing abilities without impairment. CBD is also gaining popularity due to the fact it is found in high quantities in hemp.
Just like THC, cannabidiol starts out in the raw (unheated and uncured) plant material in its acidic form or CBDa. CBDa also must be decarboxylated in order to produce CBD. Adding raw cannabis greens to your salads, or into a healthy smoothie can provide a wide range of health benefits including anti-inflammation, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-nausea, and even to help control pain.
Unlike THC, CBD doesn't bind with CB1 receptors directly, therefore it won't produce any type of psychoactive effect. However, CBD binds with an alternate site on the CB1 receptor, called an allosteric site, preventing THC from activating the receptor and counteracting the psychoactive effects of THC.
CBD has many benefits, as noted by the U.S. Government in Patent #6630507.
- Potent antioxidant – stronger than vitamins C and E.
- Powerful analgesic, especially for neuropathic pain, like fibromyalgia and Multiple Sclerosis.
- Neuroprotectant which may lead to treatments for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
- Acts as an excellent anti-depressant balancing serotonin levels, treating anxiety, addiction, appetite, nausea, and vomiting.
- Helps to regulate blood pressure.
- Even helps fight against infections as severe as MRSA.
The Effects of CBD
GW Pharmaceuticals recently gained FDA approval for their version of a 99.6 percent pure CBD medication for use in severe cases of childhood seizure disorders. This unprecedented approval will force lawmakers to reschedule CBD, so it can be legally prescribed and dispensed through traditional physicians and pharmacies.
Meanwhile, another study published this year included a survey of more than 900 Israeli patients over the age of 65. Researchers reported an astonishing 93.7 percent of participants saw an improvement in symptoms within six months of using CBD-rich cannabis strains. Another study focused on the elderly suggests CBD may help alleviate iron buildup which may contribute to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Myths about CBD
With the proliferation of legal CBD products throughout the United States, there are a few non-truths to note about CBD.
It's a cure-all! – Nothing is a cure-all. While CBD may help with certain ailments, disorders, and imbalances, it may not work for everyone or every disease.
It's all the same – Buyer beware... not all CBD products are created equal. Recent research has shown consumers should be very careful about the legal CBD supplements available on the market today. Some may be mislabeled, or worse, contain toxic contaminants.
Cannabigerol – CBG
Cannabigerol, or CBG, although rarely discussed, is another cannabinoid quickly gaining attention in advanced cannabis markets. As the parent cannabinoid of THC and CBD, this non-psychoactive compound is found in very small amounts in a mature cannabis plant. However, studies have shown a broad range of cannabinoid effects expressed by CBG.
The Effects of CBG
Although research on this particular cannabinoid is relatively limited, recent studies into the cannabinoids effects show it may present many medical benefits.
- CBG may slow cancer growth. A review from 2009 shows CBG, and many other cannabinoids are potential anti-proliferatives.
- CBG is thought to be a potent antibacterial stronger than even THC and CBD against bacteria, mycobacteria and fungi. A study from 2008 published in the Journal of Natural Products showed CBG had potent activity against MRSA, a resistant form of staph infection.
- CBG could relieve pain better than opiates. According to a study published in 2008 in Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, CBG may provide better pain relief than pharmaceuticals.
- CBG is a powerful anti-inflammatory. A study from 2011, shows CBG may work even better than CBD for reducing inflammation.
- CBG treats anxiety and depression. A review published in 2016 in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, refers to CBG as "the neglected phytocannabinoid," citing a study using CBG as an antidepressant in mice.
- CBG has potential for treating neurodegenerative disorders. Another study involving mice, showed CBG had significant impact on nerve pain and damage.
Cannabinol ? CBN
While CBG is the precursor to THC, cannabinol, or CBN is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Essentially CBN is aged THC. This non-psychoactive cannabinoid forms as THC is exposed to air and light over time. So, if you have trouble sleeping, try letting your flower "air-out" for a few weeks, the THC in the buds will oxidize, lose potency, and turn to CBN eventually.
The Effects of CBN
- CBN may be a powerful pain reliever.
- CBN is a potent sleep aid. In fact, 5mg of CBN is as effective as 10mg of diazepam according to Steep Hill Labs.
- CBN helps with inflammation. A study from 2005 shows CBN also has anti-inflammatory effects and may help treat inflammatory diseases and disorders like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, allergic asthma, and Crohn's disease.
- Like other cannabinoids, CBN is also considered an antibacterial substance. One study showed "potent activity against MRSA," while other studies show applying cannabinol topically may have the potential for treating skin issues such as psoriasis or burns.
Cannabichromene ? CBC
Despite being discovered more than five decades ago, this is a cannabinoid few have ever heard of. Also born from CBG, CBC doesn't produce any kind of psychoactive effects with little affinity for CB1 receptors. However, like CBD, this cannabinoid will bind with other receptors to elicit certain effects within the body. CBC is also thought to play a key role in the entourage effect and enhance certain cannabinoid effects.
The Effects of CBC
CBC is believed to block pain and reduce inflammation without the typical side effects of other anti-inflammatories. Research even suggests the pain-relieving ability of this cannabinoid is amplified when combined with THC.
CBC, when combined with both THC and CBD, may help treat depression. According to this study published in 2010, combining cannabinoids may increase the antidepressant effects provided by the individual cannabinoids.
CBC may have great potential in the fight against cancer, as well. Several studies show CBC inhibits the growth of cancer cells, in fact, it was ranked the second-most-effective cannabinoid for preventing cancer growth, just behind CBG.
Tetrahydrocannabivarin ? THCV
Originally discovered in 1973, tetrahydrocannabivarin, or THCv is small in quantity but gaining ground in customer demand. In large doses, THCv may create psychoactive effects, but generally, this cannabinoid is fairly limited in production within any given strain. Although found in many different strains, THCV is most common in sativa strains, such as Doug's Varin or Durban Poison.
The Effects of THCV
In a 2007 conference, research showed lab mice being supplemented with the THCv cannabinoid alone spent less time around their food than their non-medicated counterparts did. In another small clinical trial involving 62 people, patients supplemented with a specific formula of CBD and THCv. The results showed a significant improvement in multiple areas including fasting insulin levels, reduced glucose levels, better insulin response, lower blood pressure, and fewer inflammation markers.
THCV is currently being studied as a treatment for Type 2 diabetes by GW Pharmaceuticals and is thought to be an appetite suppressant which may help treat obesity. However, THCv may be beneficial in multiple disorders including:
- Epilepsy: In rodent studies, THCV stopped seizure activity. Researchers believe, due to its similarities to THC, the cannabinoids play a role in managing over stimulation in the brain contributing to epilepsy.
- Panic Disorders: Steep Hill Labs, a renowned cannabis laboratory, believes THCV may be useful in treating panic disorders such as PTSD and anxiety attacks. Rather than suppressing emotion, THCV helps to suppress the "Fight or Flight" reaction and reduce or even block panic attacks all together.
- Parkinson's Disease: According to the British Journal of Pharmacology, THCV may be very beneficial in treating Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders because of the unique way it binds with endocannabinoid receptors.
Clearly, more research is definitely needed, but with just these major six cannabinoids, effects of the plant vary greatly. With more than 400 compounds in the herb, which may present similar or even more therapeutic potential, there's no doubt restrictions must be lifted to fully understand the complexities of this long-misunderstood, natural, medical miracle.