We’ve talked terpenes. But now it’s time to get cozy with cannabis’ other famous bits: cannabinoids.
Famous, you say?
Like all celebrity, fame comes at different levels. THC and CBD are the cannabinoids with the most star power but cannabis (and, actually, the human body) produce more cannabinoids than we even know about yet. Most researchers put the number at over one hundred. So let’s back up a bit and learn the basics. What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system. They are primarily broken down into two categories: phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids (also called exogenous cannabinoids) are the compounds produced in plants. Many are exclusive to cannabis but can occasionally be found in other plants. (Did your grandmother ever swear by echinacea? Little did she know it has something in common with the devil’s lettuce!) Endocannabinoids (also called endogenous cannabinoids) are cannabinoids produced in the body.
From Beginning to Endo
So cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system. What is that? Great question–and one that scientists didn’t discover until the early 1990s and are still studying. It’s a system within the human body (and other mammals) that helps stabilize and maintain internal balance. The system is composed of endocannabinoids, lipids, enzymes and receptors. The receptors, CB1 and CB2, are key to preserving the system as they are what the cannabinoids, both endogenous and exogenous, bind to in order to create medicinal and therapeutic benefits.
CB1 receptors are mostly found in the brain and nervous system while CB2 receptors are predominantly found in the immune system. This is why the endocannabinoid system regulates both mental and physical aspects of our body. It can affect mood, pain, appetite, sleep, memory, inflammation, digestion and more. It’s also why cannabis, through cannabinoids binding to the receptors, provides such a range of medicinal benefits.
Joy, Bliss, Delight
Phytocannabinoids mimic the endocannabinoids that the body produces naturally. The two endocannabinoids that have been studied the most are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). 2-AG binds with both CB1 and CB2 and is much more likely to be found in the brain than anandamide, which is found to primarily bind with CB1. Fun fact: the word anandamide is derived from the Sanskrit ananda, which means “joy, bliss, delight.”
The most well-known and thoroughly researched phytocannabinoids are CBGA, THCA, CBDA, CBCA, CBGVA, THCVA, CBDVA and CBCVA. What’s that, eh? A, as in acid. Technically, the cannabis plant doesn’t create THC and CBD as we consume it. It creates acidic versions of the cannabinoids that need to be neutralized to activate most of their therapeutic (and psychoactive) effects. We do this through decarboxylation.
Yeah, it’s a lot of science. And a lot of it is still unknown. But over the next few weeks we’ll take a closer look at what we do know and break it down by looking at each of the main phytocannabinoids. Until then, just enjoy their effects.
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