Cannabis has been shown to contain a vast array of medicinal properties collectively called cannabinoids. These molecules are literally the keys to unlocking our endocannabinoid systems, because, just like keys, they lock into or interact with our endocannabinoid receptors on a biochemical level. They are able to mimic our naturally produced cannabinoids, which allow them to influence a myriad of physiological, physical and emotional aspects of our lives.
Much of their interactions remain relatively unknown, however since the endocannabinoid system was discovered in 1990, some big developments have been made in terms of how cannabinoids influence humans all the way down to a molecular level.
Part of the complication in finding out exactly how they work is the fact that there are anywhere from eighty to over a hundred different cannabinoids found in different variations in the cannabis sativa plant. It is not always simple to decipher, but each cannabinoid has a unique relationship with our endocannabinoid system. For example, while some cannabinoids have a direct connection to receptors, others tend to have more of an indirect association.
Cannabinoids also tend to have the main relationship with only one receptor, either CB1 or CB2 but very rarely a close relationship with both. Finally, some relationships are altered by cannabinoids whose only influence is to change the influence of others or turn one kind of cannabinoid into another. If you are confused yet, you are not alone.
While it used to be true that the only cannabinoid that mattered was THC, that hasn’t been the case since other strains of cannabis were developed for their strength in different cannabinoids, most popularly CBD. Other cannabinoids have been found to be equally as powerful as an alternative medicine, but tend to each have a different area of influence.
It’s also important to mention, that although many people continue to associate cannabis use with being high, the only cannabinoid known to stimulate this reaction is THC. Other varieties have no mind-altering effects whatsoever.
Because many people focus on the most famous cannabinoid, THC, to the exclusion of all others, here is a short list of the four most popular cannabinoids and how they work within our bodies.
The most infamous of all, THC is also the most understood in terms of its medical potential and effects, as it has been used and studied for the longest. Alongside CBD, it is also one of the main cannabinoids found within cannabis and while it stimulates both receptors, its strongest relationship is to the CB1 receptor. The CB1 receptor is concentrated in the brain, and THC’s strong psychological effects are likely due to this strong association. It also has strong effects on different aspects of the autonomic nervous system and the central nervous system.
Despite this cannabinoids’ current legal status at the federal level in the United States, it has been legalized in many countries and increasingly at the state level for its powerful medicinal properties. The research has demonstrated it is effectively able to treat muscle spasticity and pain and is also effective for nausea, vomiting, and anorexia associated with AIDS.
The second most studied cannabinoid, CBD, was the initial cannabinoid that leads to increased interest into non-THC heavy strains. Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive and has a greater relationship with CB2 than for CB1. It has a counteractive effect when used in conjunction with THC, as it lessens the strength and length of the high. Because it hasn’t been shown to lock into any one receptor in the same way that THC has been shown to do, it’s relationship is also slightly more complex.
Due to its lack of psychoactivity, it is being used in lieu of THC heavy strains for the treatment of pediatric patients, in particular for the treatment of drug-resistant forms of severe epilepsy. It also has many neuroprotective properties which are paving the way for use as a treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s. Finally, it’s also shown to be effective for treatment of pain and inflammation.
This cannabinoid is found in fewer concentrations than the two previous compounds but is nevertheless referred to as the precursor for all the other cannabinoids. Some even go so far as to claim it is why cannabis is such a powerful medicine. It does seem to have some extremely interesting influences on the human body, and a strong effect on appetite in particular. It also doesn’t have any of the common side effects of THC. Like CBD, it seems to offer protection from the psychoactive characteristics of THC.
While still relatively unknown, the preliminary research evidences its potential for treatment of depression and other mood disorders because of its stimulation of the 5-HT1a receptor. It seems to have very positive effects on neurogenesis (brain cell creation), pain, inflammation, and glaucoma.
Another cannabinoid that is found in lesser quantities than THC and CBD, but which is nevertheless equally as potent even in such small quantities. While it is also in the very early stages of the scientific study, it still has been found to have some powerful medicinal qualities and has also been found to be non-psychoactive. It seems to bind poorly to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors but interestingly has been found to stimulate the TRPV1 and TRPA1 receptors. This relationship affects the number of natural endocannabinoids in our system.
What the current research has proven so far about CBC, is that it could be a more powerful anti-inflammatory than many common pharmaceutical versions. It has also proven to be a better modulator of stress and anxiety than CBD, even up to ten times as effective in some cases.
Blesching, Uwe. The Cannabis Health Index. North Atlantic Books, 2015. Print.