Cannabinoids are a unique group of substances found in the marijuana plant. Marijuana contains several chemical compounds that make the various characteristics of the plant. However, the most important compounds in marijuana are the natural cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids also refer to the group of active chemical compounds which are responsible for its unique effects i.e. the chemicals that provide the cannabis plant its medical and recreational properties.
Cannabinoids interact with different cannabinoid receptors within the body to elicit a change and produce an array of effects such as the high feeling.
Cannabis sativa (the marijuana plant) produces about 113 different natural cannabinoids. The most studied and prevalent natural cannabinoids are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol (CBD) and Cannabinol (CBN).
Marijuana plants exhibit wide variation in the type and quantity of natural cannabinoids they produce. Natural cannabinoids are produced and also stored in the crystals of the marijuana plant, providing them the sparkly and shiny look. The plant’s cannabinoid profile is the mixture of natural cannabinoids produced by a plant. In order to modify the plant’s cannabinoid profile and control the characteristics the marijuana plants possess, selective breeding is done. This selective breeding and cultivation depend on the desired strain.
Most marijuana strains sold for recreational use today contain high levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) because of its psychoactive properties. This is the basic principle behind feeling “high” after smoking, vaporizing or injecting marijuana.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid and really works to counteract the high. CBD also has useful benefits. It is the major strain grown when marijuana is desired for medical purposes. It is used as an anti-inflammatory drug and also to relieve anxiety, convulsion or nausea.
Endocannabinoids are substances produced naturally within the body to activate cannabinoid receptors. There are two known types of cannabinoid receptors i.e. CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found in the brain and also in the anterior human eye and retina. CB1 receptors are responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana. However, CB2 receptors are found in the immune system and also in other parts of the body. CB2 receptors are responsible for the anti-inflammatory effect o of natural cannabinoids and other therapeutic functions.
Endocannabinoids serve as endogenous ligands for the natural cannabinoids receptor. The different types of natural cannabinoids produced in marijuana share similar properties and effects i.e. they interact in the same pathway with cannabinoid receptors. Also, there are different types of endocannabinoids, however, the most studied and understood endocannabinoids are arachidonoyl ethanolamine (Anandamide or AEA), 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), 2-Arachidonyl glyceryl ether (noladin ether), N-Arachidonoyl dopamine (NADA), virodhamine (OAE) and lysophosphatidylinositol (LPI).
Endocannabinoids are molecules that are not very soluble in water and synthesized ‘on-demand’ rather than made and stored for later use. Endocannabinoids have been found to constitute a versatile group of chemical compounds that affect neuronal network properties in the nervous system. They function mainly to perform homeostasis thereby regulating sleep, pain, memory, appetite, mood etc. Therefore, Endocannabinoids play a role in almost every major function of life in our body.
Types of Natural cannabinoids
Phytocannabinoids are also called natural cannabinoids, classical natural cannabinoids or herbal natural cannabinoids. As a result, they are found and occur in significant quantity in plants. The natural cannabinoids in marijuana are phytocannabinoids.
There are different types of known natural cannabinoids. These different types are derived from cannabigerol-type (CBG) compounds and differ mainly by the method by which cannabigerol-type (CBG) compounds is cyclized. These major types include;
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
- Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabicyclol (CBL)
- Cannabivarin (CBV)
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
- Cannabidivarin (CBDV)
- Cannabichromevarin (CBCV)
- Cannabigerovarin (CBGV)
- Cannabigerol Monomethyl Ether (CBGM)
THC is the most associated cannabinoid compound with marijuana. It is one of the most prevalent natural cannabinoids and generally occurring at concentrations of about thirty percent.
THC is the constitutive psychoactive component in marijuana that brings about the feeling of being “high”. It binds to CB1 receptors in the brain to exert the psychoactive feelings of euphoria, increased appetite, relaxation, accrued sensory perception, time distortion and increased socialization.
THC also has many therapeutic effects. Some of its beneficial effects include reducing nausea, vomiting and can also act as an analgesic to reduce pain in certain disorders.
However, side effects of THC are numerous including an increased heart rate, red eyes, dry mouth, dizziness, sedation, and impairments in movements. Also, there might also be hallucinations, increased reflex, and panic attacks. Psychological effects of THC may include decreased short-term memory while under the influence.
These side effects are however less common among experienced and frequent users. It mainly occurs during consumption of excessive amounts.
Cannabidiol or CBD is also a major cannabinoid. Unlike THC, CBD lacks psychoactive effects but has many therapeutic and beneficial effects. It has received a lot of attention and mainly used for research in medicine. CBD has little affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors. Common cannabis strains e.g. Charlotte’s Web, Sour Tsunami, Avidekel, Harlequin, and Cannatonic have high levels of CBD, usually about ten to twenty percent.
CBD acts as an indirect antagonist of cannabinoid agonists and therefore reduces the psychoactive effects caused by THC. This may be helpful for persons who experience the side effect of psychoactive products.
CBD may play a role in promoting sleep and suppressing arousal. Also, CBD possesses great promise in treating diseases such as Dravet syndrome. It also has a significant frequency in reducing seizure in children with different seizure disorders.
CBD has neuroprotective effects, preventing the short-term memory loss associated with THC and also help protect the brain from injury once injury. Also, it is anti-inflammatory and also reduces pain.
Cannabinol (CBN) is another distinctive cannabinoid found in marijuana. However, unlike most natural cannabinoids, CBN is not produced by any biological processes that occur within the plant.
CBN is the primary product of THC that has been stored improperly. There is usually little of CBN in a fresh marijuana plant. CBN content increases as THC degrades in storage, and with excessive exposure to too much light, air or heat. The degradation of THC is, however, a typically slow process that occurs over an extended amount time.
CBN is only mildly psychoactive. It could have antiepileptic drug effects, anti-bacterial effects and also increase appetite. CBN may also function to relieve pain, usually having a sedative effect.
Cannabigerol (CBG) is not a psychoactive cannabinoid but still contributes to the overall effects of Cannabis. CBG acts as the foundation for the different types of natural cannabinoids. It serves as a building block from which other natural cannabinoids are produced through enzymatic processes.
CBG is not very prevalent in most marijuana strains, often occurring minute concentrations of about one percent. However, CBG does occur in greater proportions in certain strains of marijuana and may become more abundant in the future as breeders work to enhance its presence.
This cannabinoid has been found to have many therapeutic effects. CBG has been shown to inhibit tumor growth and promote apoptosis in cancer cells.
Cannabigerol have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. It also functions in pain relief, antifungal and antibacterial effects.
Cannabichromene (CBC) is usually found in tropical cannabis varieties. CBC interacts with CB1 and CB2 and other receptors in the brain. Its effects appear to be mainly mediated through non-cannabinoid receptors.
CBC is also non-psychoactive and unlike CBD does not affect the psychoactive properties of TCH.
CBC has a major role in anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and also anti-fungal effects. It inhibits growth in a tumor and cancer cells. It also inhibits bone growth.
Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is a cannabinoid found naturally sometimes in a large amount of Cannabis. Its effects are not well characterized and therefore produces different effects. At lower doses, it may serve as a CB1 antagonist and at higher doses, it may behave like a CB1 agonist.
THCV is dominant in most South African and Southeast Asian strains of the marijuana plant. At CB1 receptors, it antagonizes and also reduces the psychoactive effects of THC.
THCV is used therapeutically as a potential treatment for obesity-associated glucose intolerance. It also produces a reduction in panic attacks, suppression of appetite and the promotion of bone growth.
Cannabidivarin (CBDV) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is a homolog of the cannabinoid Cannabidiol (CBD). It is usually seen in a high population of the Cannabis indica plant found in Nepal and Northwest India. Farmers have largely cultivated strains with a high percentage of CBDV mainly for research purposes. It has been employed for medical purposes due to its many therapeutic uses.
CBDV has shown a positive result for anti-convulsive effects as well as possessing anti-epilepsy properties. There is also a great news for those looking to lose weight as CBDV is also a suppressant for appetite.
CBDV has shown to treat nausea. It helps to reduce nausea symptoms significantly and it produces little or no side effects.
Additionally, research has given impressive results for CBDV in HIV/AIDS treatment and also for multiple sclerosis. It may be employed for future use an anti-retroviral drug.
Cannabicyclol (CBL) is a non-psychoactive and degradative cannabinoid. It is produced by the conversion of cannabichromene by light.
Cannabivarin CBV is also a non-psychoactive cannabinoid usually found in minute amounts in the marijuana plant Cannabis sativa. It is an analog of cannabinol (CBN) and produced by the oxidation of tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV).
2-AG is an endocannabinoid that primarily activates the CB1 receptors in the brain. 2-AG is produced in the body when needed and is quickly metabolized after its use.
2-AG has shown to play a significant role in neurodegenerative diseases and brain injury. Increased levels of 2-AG have been found in the brains of patients with stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
Research has also shown that 2-AG may have neuroprotective effects, serving as a natural protection mechanism to minimize the impact of injuries to the brain.
2-Arachidonyl glyceryl ether (noladin ether)
2-Arachidonyl glyceryl ether (noladin ether) is another type of endocannabinoids. It used to be synthesized as a stable analog of 2-AG. However, in 2001, 2-Arachidonyl glyceryl ether (noladin ether) was isolated from porcine brain.
It binds mainly to the CB1 receptor to manifest its effects and only binds weakly to the CB2 receptor. Binding to the CB1 receptor, it causes lower body temperature, intestinal immobility, sedation and also mild analgesic to reduce pain sensations.
Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that is predominately found in the body. This endocannabinoid is also present in the brain, but unlike 2-AG it occurs in lesser amounts. Its name originates from the Sanskrit word ‘Ananda’, meaning bliss.
Anandamide is also believed to a role in the euphoric effects of physical exercise, commonly known as the “runner’s high”. Furthermore, anandamide offers other beneficial effects through its interaction with the endocannabinoid system.
Anandamide therapeutic effects also include improvements in cognitive performance, pain, and mood. Also, anandamide reduces deficits in energy metabolism, oxidative stress, and inflammation.
Virodhamine or “O”-Arachidonoyl-ethanolamine is an endocannabinoid and non-classical eicosanoid that acts as a full agonist at the CB2 receptor. At the CB1 receptor, it may act as a partial agonist or an antagonist.
Virodhamine is found in the brain but also found in other parts of the body that expresses the CB2 receptor. Research has shown therapeutic effects of virodhamine, this includes lowering the body temperature.
Cannabinoids are a group of molecular compounds that all share some common characteristics. The popular natural cannabinoids in marijuana are THC and CBD. Through their interactions with cannabinoid receptors in the body, these compounds produce different effects on our body affecting our health.