A key component in the transition from cannabis-as-street-drug to cannabis-as-medicine in the public conscience will be science. Once upon a time, it was enough for cannabis consumers to say, “you smoke it and it gets you high,” but that doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to convincing non-believers that cannabis is a useful plant that can improve people’s quality of life. At the root of cannabis’ effects on the body and mind are cannabinoids. Many stoners have gone their entire lives without understand what exactly it is that makes them feel so good—mostly because the explanation involves a lot of big words and chemical jargon.
Don’t worry, you won’t find that here. This article will provide a picture of the cannabinoids in broad strokes, and give you an idea of what they are, who they are, and what they can do for you.
Let’s begin with . . .
What Are They?
First and foremost, let’s just point out that when it comes to cannabis, we’re only talking about a single class of cannabinoids, phytocannabinoids—those produced by the cannabis plant. “Cannabinoid” technically also refers to endocannabinoids (naturally produced in the bodies of animals) and synthetic cannabinoids (manufactured in laboratories).
It is also important to note that cannabinoids—as we know them—are not actually produced by the plant itself. Rather, cannabis plants synthesize cannabinoid acids, which correlate to the useful cannabinoids themselves (for example, THC is derived from THCA—the “A” standing for “acid”). It is only when these cannabinoid acids are decarboxylated (I warned you about big words) that we get the cannabinoids that we are familiar with, and which can elicit physical or psychological effects. This decarboxylation is typically achieved by applying heat, though there are exceptions.
These neutral (i.e. not acidic) cannabinoids are compounds with a variety of interesting properties. When consumed, they stand in for or supplement endocannabinoids—similar compounds which are naturally produced within the human body to maintain health. Cannabinoids bind to receptors throughout the body. A particular cannabinoid’s effects are a result of which receptors it binds to.
More Than Just THC
While pretty much every stoner on Earth can name THC, it is only one of over a dozen cannabinoids which have been isolated from cannabis plants. Due to a general lack of research in the field, little is known about many of these cannabinoids, including their potential medicinal effects. These are some of the better known cannabinoids:
- THC (tetrahydrocannabinol): Let’s get this guy out of the way. THC is the psychoactive chemical compound in cannabis, and the most common in commercial and popular strains. THC binds well to receptors in the brain, causing the psychoactive effects that consumers love. THC has a wide range of medical applications, having been used to treat everything from insomnia and pain to nausea and depression.
- CBD (cannabidiol): Easily the second best-known cannabinoid, CBD is growing in popularity, as evidenced by the recent boom in high-CBD commercial strains. CBD was once mainly considered as a convenient way to balance the psychoactive effects of THC. However, research is now underway into the mental applications of CBD itself—it seems to be particularly useful in treating PTSD. Its lack of the psychoactive “high” means that CBD is particular helpful for patients who do not appreciate the mental incapacitation that can come with standard strains. For this reason, CBD has been used to treat severe epilepsy in children.
CBD is a highly efficient cannabinoid—strains featuring 4% CBD content are considered to be high-CBD, compared to the standard 20% bar for high-THC strains.
- CBG (cannabigerol): The average strain only contains about 1% CBG content, and yet this little-known cannabinoid is the chemical parent of both THC and CBD. Some high-profile producers are currently in the process of developing higher CBG strains, due in part to a collection of recent studies which have identified the cannabinoid as being useful in treating glaucoma, inflammation, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and potentially even severe neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
- CBN (cannabinol): Ever noticed how an old, dried-up stash of cannabis made you feel extra sleepy? As THC degrades, it converts to CBN. CBN recently came to widespread attention in the medical community when it was discovered to produce sedative effects twice as powerful as diazepam, a hugely popular and over-prescribed pharmaceutical sedative. CBN will therefore likely be a major player in strains designed to improve sleep. But CBN doesn’t stop there—studies have also pointed to a host of other properties, including anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, pain-relieving, bone-developing and other effects.
A CANNABINOID FOR EVERY OCCASION
Clearly there’s a lot we don’t know about cannabinoids, and this article has only scratched the very surface. There are still heaps of other cannabinoids awaiting thorough research, compounds such as cannabichromene, cannabicyclol, cannabivarian, cannabielsoin, and cannabicitran. With legalization should come more focus on the medicinal properties of the cannabis plant, and a better understanding of just how to put these magical compounds to use. Cannabis already helps many people through their day, and it’s exciting to think of the other applications that still lie waiting. THC is a great time, but there may be more helpful cannabinoids in there.