Let’s talk a little bit about cannabinoids.
And, surprisingly, I won’t take the usual route and start harping on about THC [delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol] or CBD [cannabidiol] – I’m sure you know all there is about those two. [We will mention them, of course — they are the two last items on our list].
Did you know that different cannabinoids are abundant out there? That the cannabis plant is chock full of them — that 110+ have been discovered by now, with more reported every year?
Or that your go-to guy likely makes his synthetic cannabinoids in his basement?
You didn’t know all of that? And you pride yourself on cannabis use?
Well, it’s true.
There are many of these specific chemical compounds out there… and none of them are very similar, either in effect or in chemical composition. So today, I want you to hunker down and get familiar with different types of phytocannabinoids [the plant-based ones]. After all, you might be getting a healthy dose of each of these if you’re using them in your dry herb vape pen — it makes sense that you know what they do.
Here’s a list of 11 minor cannabinoids that we’re going to tackle here:
Before we dig deep into the details on these cannabinoids, let’s look at why they are important first.
Introducing the human endocannabinoid system.
The Human Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system regulates many of our bodily functions and is essential for our bodies to work correctly. Yet, it has been a complete medical mystery for centuries. Finally, it was discovered, by accident, in the 1990ies by Dr. L.A. Matsuda. Dr. Matsuda’s research aimed to find key receptors in our brains and bodies that allowed certain cannabinoids to have such a profound influence on us. That research led to discovering the first type of cannabinoid receptor in our body, the CB1. CB1 receptors are primarily clustered in our brain and peripheral nervous system, which is logical since they bind with THC to produce psychoactive effects.
Subsequent research discovered a second cannabinoid receptor (CB2), a receptor that is present throughout our bodies. However, those subsequent studies also found that our organism contains compounds that bind with those receptors. As a result, we now know that there are two types of these – AEA and 2AG – and they are more commonly known as endocannabinoids. The word endo means that they are native to our bodies and produced by them, instead of being introduced from something external, such as the cannabis plant.
Effectively, the search for the answer to why we get high when smoking pot provided the basis for a much larger scientific discovery. That discovery was our innate endocannabinoid system, which plays a vital role in regulating our bone density and the immune system, preventing diabetes, and managing the symptoms of many other diseases. Except for insects, every animal on the planet has a developed endocannabinoid system, and scientists speculate that it first emerged over 600 million years ago.
Phytocannabinoids – A Growing List of Plant-Based Cannabinoids
In recent years, three more endocannabinoids have been discovered – 2AGE, NADA, and OAE. There are also indications that there may be as many additional three cannabinoid receptors (G protein-coupled receptor 55 is the strong contender for the third one). While the hunt for those that elude us continues, cannabis researchers were able to identify around 113 phytocannabinoids.
Phytocannabinoids fall into the same group as endocannabinoids – they bind with our bodies’ cannabinoid receptors (CB1, CB2, or both) to trigger various most beneficial effects on our health. The only difference is that they are not naturally occurring in our bodies.
There are also synthetic cannabinoids that are manufactured in a laboratory. Most of these have very damaging effects on the body — they are used for lacing marijuana buds for more potent psychoactive effects, and you should avoid them.
What Other Cannabinoids Are There?
Although scientists have identified 113 phytocannabinoids, we don’t know much about a lot of them. That’s why this list of cannabinoids will focus on the ones that have received a bit of attention – a group that we call significant phytocannabinoids. Notice that I’ve included cannabinoid acids here as well. In the raw form, only those acids exist – they lose their carboxyl group (the molecules that make them acids) when heated. These acids, such as THCA and CBDA, are similar to their non-acidic counterparts but have unique health benefits all of their own.
Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA)
THCA is a predominant compound in some cannabis strains. Before it’s heated and turns into THC, it’s completely non-psychoactive, which means that it doesn’t alter consciousness or make you high. Current research into THCA is still in its infancy stage, however. We know so far that it has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, making it a possible candidate for treating conditions ranging from autoimmune diseases to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It can also help calm the stomach, so it’s suitable for treating nausea and appetite loss (and good for weight gain).
One recent study shows that THCA can be extremely helpful when it comes to treating various seizures and epilepsy. This study found that just two milligrams of THCA administered daily can reduce the frequency of seizures by up to 90%. Another study on mice concluded that the same cannabinoid acid can minimize prostate cancer cells’ proliferation (growth). It also plays an important role in creating other types of cannabinoids.
Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)
CBDA is a predominant compound in cannabis strains that eventually yield high CBD dosages. While still very under-researched, CBDA is thought to help with chronic inflammations (by reducing them similarly to non-steroidal drugs, NSAIDs). It’s also more effective in treating nausea than any other cannabinoid currently being tested for that. One research also found that CBDA might be very effective when halting the progress of cancer – more accurately, breast cancer. Last but not least, CBDA is being looked into for its ability to help with various mental disorders – psychosis, anxiety, and depression. One pharmaceutical company (GW Pharmaceuticals) even obtained CBDA in a patent on using this cannabinoid with different anti-psychosis medications.
CBN is a cannabinoid that results from the degradation of THC. Very little of it is available in a raw cannabis plant. As for its effects, CBN is a potent sedative that often leads to a state called ‘couch lock’ – a form of drowsiness that could very well be key in treating conditions such as insomnia and sleep disorders. A 2007 study found that CBN can help stimulate new bone cell growth and regeneration, which means that it could potentially be used for treating fractures. Additionally, some studies found that it can inhibit human keratinocyte proliferation (slow down skin regeneration). Although further studies are needed, this signals a potential use for CBN in treatments for psoriasis and similar skin conditions, as well as other health conditions.
A non-psychoactive cannabinoid, CBG’s has strong antibacterial properties that can alter already established effects of other cannabinoids. It slows or kills bacteria, slows the growth rate of tumor cells, and promotes the growth of healthy bone tissue. It also has very pronounced anti-inflammation properties, especially in its acidic form (CBGA). In 2018, studies were conducted on CBG, which showed that it interacts with both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Still, additional studies are needed to ascertain its full impact on the endocannabinoid system.
CBC is non-intoxicating, so it doesn’t produce a euphoric high like THC. While it binds poorly to CB1, CBC does bind exceptionally well with other receptors in the body. Some examples are vanilloid receptor 1 (TRPV1) and transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1). Both of these receptors are linked to pain perception and, when CBC activates them, natural endocannabinoid anandamide is released. Research has found that CBC is the second-best cannabinoid when it comes to inhibiting the growth of cancer cells.
CBC has a very positive effect on NSPC cells (neural stem progenitor cells), which are essential for maintaining healthy brain function. These cells become more viable when CBC is introduced and help maintain brain homeostasis. To top the list of CBC benefits, some studies have also concluded that it can have a very positive anti-inflammation effect, particularly when it comes to the skin. This means that it might have a bright future as a critical ingredient in anti-acne medication.
Although highly similar to THC in chemical structure, THCV has very different properties than others. The compound’s lack of two carbons (which is the only difference to THC) makes it an appetite suppressant, the total opposite of THC. THCV can also help with diabetes by reducing insulin resistance and regulating blood sugar. It also lowers panic attacks by acting as a mild anxiolytic. In addition, people affected by osteoporosis can benefit from potential drugs with THCV as an ingredient since it has been shown to stimulate bone growth.
Recent and ongoing studies have shown that CBDV can be highly beneficial for treating epilepsy and other neurological conditions. Various studies on mice confirm that it’s a very effective antiepileptic and anticonvulsant that works to stop convulsions even if an epileptic episode does happen. It’s great for treating muscle spasms and has a lot of other medical benefits. In September of 2018, a drug for two distinct forms of childhood epilepsy was given FDA and DEA approval. The main active ingredient of the drug is cannabidivarin. Additionally, CBDV is an appetite suppressant that can help treat obesity. It doesn’t have any psychoactive properties or side effects that usually accompany drugs for appetite suppression… but it does have similar effects (if not even better).
Cannabigerolic Acid (CBGa)
Scientists have known about CBG (cannabigerol) for quite some time now. They’re sure that this cannabinoid is the precursor to most other cannabinoids — THC, CBD, and CBC.
Unfortunately, research into cannabigerolic acid is slow, especially when it comes to its potential health benefits. However, some studies out there confirm it might be of great use when it comes to treating specific conditions. For example, CBGa was studied in vitro. It was found that it inhibits the aldose reductase enzyme, which is responsible for oxidative stress that leads to heart problems. Another study found that it can be beneficial when treating various metabolic disorders. Of course, all these studies need to be corroborated. Still, it’s not unreasonable to expect CBGa to be used in some future medications.
This cannabinoid has a similar structure to CBD and is also non-intoxicating. Therefore, you will find it in strains that are high in CBD.
Researchers discovered it in 1969, but it was subject to limited research until very recently. CBDV is known for its anticonvulsant effects, which activate an ion channel in the peripheral and central nervous system called TRPV1. It acts as a receptor and plays a role in the modulation of pain and its transmission.
One of the most potential benefits of CBDV is the reduction of epileptic fits. Other scientific research suggests that CBDV has a potent anticonvulsant effect on a range of epileptic seizures.
CBD is, perhaps, the most research compound in this list of cannabinoids. Interestingly, while it can bind (not perfectly) to both CB1R and CB2Rs receptors, much of the beneficial effects of cannabidiol come from its various interactions with other receptors in the body and its indirect impact on the endocannabinoid system. It’s one of the more abundant cannabinoids usually extracted from the hemp plant.
For example, by activating the TRPV1 receptors, CBD can have beneficial effects on body temperature, pain perception and intensity, and anti-inflammatory properties. It also inhibits the Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH). This inhibition can result in higher levels of anandamide, the first endocannabinoid ever discovered. As a result, people using CBD can experience more neural pleasure and motivation (both partially regulated by anandamide). In addition to all that, CBD has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-seizure properties and act on cancer cells to prevent their growth, migration, and reproduction. It’s also an anxiolytic and can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression in patients who have tried different chemicals and CBD products.
One study identified CBD as a strong contender for fighting diabetes – only 32% of mice that received CBD developed diabetes, compared to 100% in the control group. CBD is often found in full-spectrum oils. However, it works best when combined with other cannabinoids (thanks to something called the entourage effect ).
THC is probably the best-known cannabinoid in the world. It’s also known as Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and is predominant in Cannabis sativa and other strains of cannabis. It’s present in trace amounts in most strains, actually.
It’s also one of the rare psychoactive cannabinoids. But, it has numerous health benefits as well. Due to its unique structure, it’s a partial agonist for both CB1 and CB2 receptors – this means that it binds with both but has a limited effect compared to full agonists. In addition, THC has been identified as a mild painkiller that helps with pain management for numerous degenerative and chronic pain conditions, so it’s great for pain relief. It also has antioxidative properties.
Studies into THC are limited because of permits required to conduct research. However, of the studies that have been done, most conclude that it’s beneficial when treating some symptoms of multiple sclerosis, such a central pain, and spasticity.
Cannabinoids – The Drug of the Future?
While this is not an exhaustive list of cannabinoids and their effects, it is the best one that can currently be drawn up. Cannabinoid research is still very much in its infancy. It is also highly hampered by the fact that cannabis is treated as a Class I substance in the US, limiting scientists from looking into it as freely as they otherwise would.
However, incomplete as it is, this list of cannabinoids clearly demonstrates that they are highly beneficial to our health, as well as the fact that we need to start seriously looking into making cannabinoid-based drugs mainstream.