Cannabinoids get their name less from what they are and more from what they do. They’re a class of chemical compounds the cannabis plant naturally produces. But they have the unique property of being able to interact with receptors in our cells. These interactions, through a complex series of pathways, alter the release of chemicals in the brain. These alterations, in turn, produce a wide array of effects throughout the body.
Cannabinoids, of course, do not exist only in trichomes. They can be found in varying concentrations throughout the leafy structures of the plant. But they exist in the highest concentrations in the flowering parts of female cannabis plants
Hence, THC is the most sought after cannabinoid for recreational cannabis users. In fact, many of the current trends among recreational cannabis users involve perfecting the extraction and consumption of THC. The rise in the popularity of cannabis concentrates, extracts that remove cannabinoids from excess plant matter, is just one example.
THC produces psychoactive effects.This interaction induces an alteration in the release of chemicals in the brain. These alterations, which include an increase in dopamine release, cause the variety of psychological effects recreational cannabis users enjoy. Alterations in memory, movement, mood, perception and cognition all result from the binding of THC to CB1 receptors. These psychological effects also open doors to many therapeutic uses for THC.
When it comes to the medicinal applications of cannabis, no cannabinoid is more significant than cannabidiol. Among the first cannabinoids discovered, CBD continues to be one of the most intensively researched chemicals in the marijuana plant.
Crucially, CBD is non-psychotropic. This means that cannabidiol does not have any of the psychoactive effects of THC. Yet CBD goes one step further. It’s not just that CBD doesn’t produce a high, it also counteracts the cognitive effects of THC.
The importance of CBD’s lack of psychoactivity cannot be overstated. For one, it makes the cannabinoid an exception to laws that ban cannabis on the basis of the presence of THC. This accounts for why research into cannabinol has advanced further than research into other cannabinoids.
Many medical cannabis patients find the psychoactive effects of THC undesirable. Thus, CBD-only products offer the medical and therapeutic benefits of cannabis, without the high.
CBD is primarily extracted from hemp plants, which possess just trace amounts of THC. But breeders have also begun cultivating CBD-dominant strains of cannabis. These CBD-dominant, or 1:1 THC-CBD strains, are increasingly popular among medical cannabis patients.
There are many well-documented medical applications of CBD including Charlotte Figi - whom the CBD strain "Charlottes Webb"was named after. Her documentary can be watched here: Sunjay Gupta CNN Documentary
And our very own New Zealand made film Druglawed also covers Charlotte's story
Mature cannabis plants only posses 1 percent or less of CBG, or cannabigerol. But that’s not because the plant doesn’t produce very much of it. Rather, maturing plants produce quite a lot of CBG. Eventually, however, virtually all of the CBG produced initially has converted to other cannabinoids. Hence the nicknames CBG has earned. Some call it the “mother cannabinoid,” while others consider it the “stem cell” cannabinoid.
CBG converts into many derivative cannabinoids. But it primarily turns into THC and CBD. This is what makes the cannabigerol cannabinoid so important. Figuring out which factors control which path CBG will take has helped plant scientists “direct” cannabinoid production, leading to marijuana strains with high CBD and low THC and vice versa. CBG itself is non-psychoactive.
Excitingly, CBG has also shown a number of promising medical applications. Research has suggested CBG could help treat cancer and a variety of bowel and bladder diseases, glaucoma, pain, anxiety, and inflammation.
CBN is unique among the cannabinoids listed here for one reason. It is the only one that does not derive from cannabigerol (CBG), the “stem cell” cannabinoid. Rather, CBN forms from the natural degradation of THC.
Oxidation, light and exposure to air cause THC to degrade. Dried marijuana flower, in other words, is constantly losing THC as it breaks down into CBN. That’s why proper storage is so key to maintaining the potency of dried cannabis buds. Since cannabinol is effectively non-psychoactive, its presence represents a loss of potency. Fresh plants an dried marijuana flower, therefore, possess only trace amounts of CBN.
Cannabinol, despite being a sign that weed has gone bad, does have some important medical potential. It’s a sedative, works as an antibiotic, and even shows promising results as an analgesic.
Cannabichromene is, like CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Unlike CBD however, CBC has no effect on the psychoactive effects of THC. Rather, it appears that THC influences CBC in a way that enhances its anti-inflammatory activity.
This interplay between two cannabinoids, in this case, THC and CBC, is a good example of the phenomenon researchers call the “ensemble or entourage effect.”
Hence the “whole plant” approach advocated by many cannabis caregivers. Isolated extractions and preparations of a single cannabinoid, they argue, eliminate these important inter-cannabinoid relationships.
In the consumer market, CBC’s anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and antibiotic properties make extractions of this cannabinoid popular for use in cannabis topicals.
The “-varins” are a class of phytocannabinoid that are isometric homologues of the root compound, in this case THC. And given it’s name, you might assume THCV shares psychoactive powers with its potent counterpart, THC.
Well, yes and no. In fact, this is the main debate surrounding the properties of THCV. Some studies report that this cannabinoid acts as a THC antagonist at CB1 receptors. This means it would attenuate and reduces the psychoactive effects of THC.
Other studies, however, have found that THCV can act as a particularly potent psychoactive cannabinoid. These studies claim THCV is actually stronger than THC, producing short-lived but intensely euphoric and cerebral highs.
Other researchers have proposed a synthesis of the two models, arguing THCV behaves like a cross between CBD and THC. From the former, it takes its modulating powers. Acting like THC “lite,” THCV like CBD can dampen the effects of a strong high. Yet at higher doses, THCV kicks into a psychoactive stimulant in its own right.
In the consumer market THCV is new, but holds great poteantials, and is seeked out for those with weight issues in need of an appetite suppressant.
A newcomer on the recreational scene and something of an unguarded secret among dabbers, delta-8-THC is a different psychoactive cannabinoid with its own set of therapeutic benefits when compared to delta-9 THC.
Delta-8-THC is an isomer of the more common delta-9-THC, outlined above. Delta-8 is not as strong from a psychoactive perspective as delta-9-THC, but it comes with added therapeutic benefits. Indeed, it’s weaker psychoactivity may be a therapeutic benefit in itself for patients who do not desire such effects.
Current research has strongly correlated delta-8-THC with the death of cancer cells and reductions in tumor size in mice. In Jerusalem, researches have claimed that delta-8-THC cancer treatments have been successful in 480 cases. The cannabinoid is also a powerful antiemetic capable of drastically reducing nausea and vomiting. This, along with its ability to stimulate appetite, make it extremely viable as a treatment for the harmful side effects of cancer treatments.
Cannabidivarin is homolog of cannabidiol (CBD) that heightens the powerful anticonvulsant effects of CBD. Totally non-psychoactive, there are no legal restrictions on this cannabinoid. As a result, major pharmaceutical companies are actively researching this cannabinoid as a treatment for adult and child epilepsy.
This means it can help reduce the severity of seizures for people suffering from epilepsy. The CBDV cannabinoid has also shown promise as an anti-nausea medicine. However, pharmacologically significant amounts of CBDV are hard to come by in most marijuana strains. The highest levels of CBDV come from landrace indica strains in the Himalayas.
THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid) and CBDA (Cannabidiolic Acid)
The “A” suffix denotes the naturally occurring, acidic form of these phytocannabinoids. In order for the body to metabolize cannabinoids, they have to be in a form capable of entering the bloodstream and binding to cell receptors.
Specifically, the acidic form of these cannabinoids contains a carboxyl group. Exposing acidic forms of cannabinoids to heat causes them to lose the carboxyl group, converting them into a form the body can use. This process is called “decarboxylation.”
You may have heard that term thrown around in discussions about preparing marijuana edibles. Raw cannabis must first be activated, or “decarbed,” in order to make the cannabinoids chemically active in the body.
There are acidic versions of many of the major cannabinoids in the plant. All of them convert to pharmacologically relevant forms via heat. Note the low temperatures, which indicate the point of conversion.
Recent studies, however, have begun to examine the effects of these “raw” forms of cannabinoids. The findings point to the need for further research. THCA has proven to be a good antiemetic and anti-inflammatory compound in its own right. CBDA has shown potential as a possible cancer treatment.
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