What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are a class of naturally occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant. There are over 100 different cannabinoids identified so far, each with its own unique effects on the human body. The majority of cannabinoids are non-psychoactive, which means that they will not get you high! Others, such as Delta-9 THC are psychoactive, but contain other beneficial health benefits as well.
How do Cannabinoids Work?
Cannabinoids work by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a complex cell-signaling system found in humans and other animals. The ECS is involved in regulating various physiological and cognitive processes, including mood, appetite, pain, inflammation, and sleep.
The ECS consists of three main components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring cannabinoids that are produced by the body. Receptors are proteins found on the surface of cells that bind to cannabinoids and trigger a response. Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they have fulfilled their function.
When a cannabinoid, such as THC or CBD, is ingested or inhaled, it interacts with the ECS by binding to receptors in the brain and body. This binding can produce a wide range of effects, depending on the type of cannabinoid and the location of the receptor.
For example, THC binds primarily to the CB1 receptors in the brain, producing the psychoactive effects commonly associated with cannabis use. CBD, on the other hand, has a low affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors and instead interacts with a variety of other receptors and channels in the body, producing a range of potential therapeutic effects.
There is a growing body of research on the mechanisms of action of cannabinoids in the body. One study published in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience found that endocannabinoids and their receptors are involved in the regulation of a wide range of physiological processes, including appetite, pain, mood, and immune function (1). Another study published in the journal Current Opinion in Pharmacology found that cannabinoids can modulate the release of neurotransmitters and affect the activity of ion channels and receptors in the brain, leading to a wide range of potential therapeutic effects (2).
Overall, cannabinoids work by modulating the activity of the endocannabinoid system, which in turn can have effects on various physiological and cognitive processes in the body.
Di Marzo V, Piscitelli F. The endocannabinoid system and its modulation by phytocannabinoids. Neurotherapeutics. 2015 Jan;12(4):692-8. doi: 10.1007/s13311-015-0374-6. PMID: 26269227; PMCID: PMC4604178.
Howlett AC. The cannabinoid receptors. Prostaglandins Other Lipid Mediat. 2002 Aug;68-69:619-31. doi: 10.1016/s0090-6980(02)00060-6. PMID: 12432948.
What are some Cannabinoids I should know?
Here are some of the most well-known cannabinoids, including CBD, CBN, and CBG, with sources to back up the information:
- CBD (Cannabidiol) - CBD is one of the most well-known and extensively researched cannabinoids. It is non-psychoactive and has been found to have potential therapeutic benefits for a variety of conditions. CBD is believed to interact with the body's endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating mood, sleep, appetite, and immune function. Sources:
- Aso, E., & Ferrer, I. (2014). Cannabinoids for treatment of Alzheimer's disease: moving toward the clinic. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 5, 37.
- Hurd, Y. L. et al. (2015). Cannabidiol: Swinging the marijuana pendulum from 'Weed' to medication to treat the opioid epidemic. Trends in Neurosciences, 38(5), 271-293.
- CBN (Cannabinol) - CBN is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is produced when THC ages and oxidizes. It has been found to have sedative effects and may help promote relaxation and aid in sleep. CBN is also believed to have pain-relieving properties and anti-inflammatory effects. Sources:
- Hindocha, C. et al. (2018). Cannabinoids and sleep: a review of the literature. Current Psychiatry Reports, 20(11), 92.
- Hammell, D. C. et al. (2016). Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviors in a rat model of arthritis. European Journal of Pain, 20(6), 936–948.
- CBG (Cannabigerol) - CBG is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is found in smaller amounts in the cannabis plant compared to other cannabinoids. It is believed to have potential therapeutic benefits for a variety of conditions, including anxiety and depression, and may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Sources:
- Oláh, A. et al. (2016). Cannabigerol exerts powerful neuroprotective effects through inhibition of microglial activation. Neurotherapeutics, 12(4), 699–712.
- Galan-Rodriguez, B. et al. (2019). A comprehensive review of cannabinoids and psychosis. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10, 20.
- CBC (Cannabichromene) - CBC is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is found in smaller amounts in the cannabis plant. It is believed to have potential therapeutic benefits for a variety of conditions, including pain, inflammation, and depression. CBC is also believed to have anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. Sources:
- DeLong, G. T. et al. (2010). Cannabinoids, inflammation, and fibrosis. The American Journal of Pathology, 177(2), 956–965.
- Chagas, M. H. N. et al. (2014). Cannabidiol can improve complex sleep-related behaviours associated with rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder in Parkinson's disease patients: a case series. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 39(5), 564-566.
- Delta-9 THC (Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol) - Delta-9 THC is the most well-known and psychoactive cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It is responsible for the "high" associated with cannabis use and is believed to have potential therapeutic benefits for a variety of conditions, including pain, nausea, and appetite stimulation. Delta-9 THC is also believed to have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. Sources:
- Mechoulam, R. et al. (2002). Cannabinoids in health and disease. Chemical Immunology and Allergy, 88, 1–17.
- Pertwee, R. G. (2008). The diverse CB1 and CB2 receptor pharmacology of three plant cannabinoids: Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol and Δ9-tetrahydrocannabivarin. British Journal of Pharmacology, 153(2), 199–215.
- HHC (Hexahydrocannabinol) - HHC is a lesser-known cannabinoid that is structurally similar to Delta-9 THC. It is believed to have potential therapeutic benefits for a variety of conditions, including pain, inflammation, and anxiety. HHC is also believed to have neuroprotective effects. Sources:
- Devinsky, O. et al. (2014). Cannabidiol: pharmacology and potential therapeutic role in epilepsy and other neuropsychiatric disorders. Epilepsia, 55(6), 791-802.
- Ujváry, I. et al. (2016). Emerging trends in the formation, distribution, and quantification of cannabinoids in foods. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 56(15), 2415-2430.
Delta-9 THC Legality
The 2018 Farm Bill defines hemp as "the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis."
This means that hemp-derived delta-9 THC products that contain no more than 0.3% delta-9 THC on a dry weight basis are legal under federal law. However, it is important to note that the legality of delta-9 THC varies by state, and some states may have more restrictive laws.
The legalization of hemp and hemp-derived products, including delta-9 THC, has opened up new opportunities for the cannabis industry and for consumers who are interested in the potential health benefits of cannabinoids. However, it is important to exercise caution when using these products, as the effects of cannabinoids can vary widely and can interact with other medications.
- "2018 Farm Bill." U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- "Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version." National Cancer Institute.
- "Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System." National Institute on Drug Abuse.