You may have heard of cannabinoids, but what exactly are they? In short, cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis plants and interact with the human body in various ways. Cannabinoids made by cannabis are known as Phytocannabinoids (Phyto meaning it comes from a plant). Our bodies can take in phytocannabinoids because humans have an internal cannabinoid system called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). Our bodies also produce cannabinoids, called Endogenous Cannabinoids (meaning they come from within us). In this article, we’ll look at what cannabinoids are, how many there are, and which ones have been studied. By the end, you’ll better understand these essential cannabis compounds.
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis plants and interact with the human body in various ways. The most well-known cannabinoid is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. However, dozens of other cannabinoids are present in cannabis plants, each with potential therapeutic benefits.
Phytocannabinoids vs. Endocannabinoids: What’s the Difference?
There are two main types of cannabinoids: phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are found in cannabis plants, while our bodies produce endocannabinoids. Let’s look at the difference between these two types of cannabinoids.
Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are found in cannabis plants. The most well-known phytocannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the psychoactive effects, or “high,” associated with cannabis use. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and central nervous system, causing the changes in perception, mood, and behavior that we experience when we use cannabis.
Endocannabinoids are endogenous or internally produced cannabinoids that bind to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body. Unlike phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids are not derived from plants. There are two main endocannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG.
Anandamide derives its name from the Sanskrit word “ananda,” which means “bliss.” This compound regulates mood, memory, appetite, fertility, and pain perception. 2-AG stands for 2-arachidonoylglycerol and is involved in immune function, appetite control, pain perception, learning, and memory formation.
Six Key Differences between Endo & Phyto Cannabinoids
- Phytocannabinoids are found in plants, while the human body produces endocannabinoids.
- Phytocannabinoids can be consumed (ingested or inhaled), while endocannabinoids cannot.
- Phytocannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and throughout the nervous system. In contrast, endocannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors in the body’s cells.
- The effects of phytocannabinoids are long-lasting, while the effects of endocannabinoids are short-lived.
- Phytocannabinoids can affect people who do not have a functioning endocannabinoid system, while endocannabinoids cannot.
- The most well-known phytocannabinoid is THC, while the most well-known endocannabinoid is anandamide.
When Were Cannabinoids Discovered?
Cannabinoids were discovered in the early 1800s when scientists were researching marijuana for its medicinal purposes. The first cannabinoid to be identified was CBD, isolated in 1940. In the 1960s, THC was identified as the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana. Since then, researchers have been working to unlock the full potential of cannabinoids and their therapeutic benefits.
How Many Phytocannabinoids Are There?
Scientists have identified more than 120 different cannabinoids in cannabis plants. However, not all of these cannabinoids have been studied extensively. Some, like THC and CBD (cannabidiol), have been researched relatively extensively; others, like CBG (cannabigerol) and CBC (cannabichromene), are only beginning to be studied for their potential therapeutic benefits.
An Overview of 11 Phytocannabinoids:
Cannabidiol is the most abundant cannabinoid found in cannabis plants, accounting for up to 40% of the plant’s extract. CBD is a non-intoxicating compound that has been shown to have a variety of potential therapeutic applications, including reducing anxiety, relieving pain, and improving sleep.
Tetrahydrocannabinol is the second most abundant cannabinoid found in cannabis plants, accounting for up to 20-35% of the plant’s chemovar. THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, meaning it is responsible for the plant’s intoxicating effects. THC has also been shown to have several potential therapeutic applications, including reducing pain and inflammation.
3. Cannabichromene (CBC)
Cannabichromene is a lesser-known cannabinoid that typically makes up less than 5% of a cannabis plant’s extract. CBC has been shown to possess many potential therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects.
4. Cannabigerol (CBG)
Cannabigerol is another lesser-known cannabinoid that typically makes up less than 1% of a cannabis plant’s extract. CBG has been shown to possess some potential therapeutic properties, including reducing anxiety and promoting nerve growth.
5. Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
Tetrahydrocannabivarin is a rarer cannabinoid typically only found in trace amounts in cannabis plants. THCV has been shown to possess a few potential therapeutic properties, including reducing appetite and promoting bone growth.
6. Cannabinol (CBN)
Cannabinol is a degradation product of THC that is typically only found in small amounts in aged or poorly stored cannabis flowers. CBN has been shown to possess sedative effects and may help treat insomnia or other sleep disorders.
7. Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8-THC)
Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol is an analog of THC that is typically only found in trace amounts in cannabis plants. Delta-8-THC has been shown to possess similar but weaker psychoactive effects than THC.
8. Cannabicyclol (CBL)
Cannabicyclol is another degradation product of THC that is typically only found in small amounts in aged or poorly stored cannabis flowers. CBL has a minimal psychoactive effect and may promote relaxation and sleepiness.
9. Cannabitriol (CBT)
Cannabitriol is another rarer cannabinoid typically only found in trace amounts in cannabis plants. CBT has been shown to possess antibacterial and antifungal properties
10. Cannabivarin (CBV)
Cannabivarin (CBV) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. CBV is similar to cannabidiol (CBD) in structure but differs in behavior. Unlike CBD, CBV does not bind to the CB1 receptor. Instead, it binds to the CB2 receptor, associated with immune system function. Studies suggest that CBV may have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. It is also being investigated as a potential treatment for epilepsy and other neurological disorders.
11. Cannabidivarin (CBDV)
CBDV is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that is thought to have anti-nausea and anti-seizure properties. CBDV is present in small to moderate amounts in some cannabis strains.
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