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Cannabinoids: Beyond THC & CBD
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Cannabinoids: Beyond THC & CBD

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Jacquie Maynard

08-18-2020

If you know anything about Cannabis, you have likely heard of THC and CBD. You probably know that THC is the one that produces the euphoric effect and CBD is the one that promotes wellness. What you might not know, however, are the many other beneficial plant compounds Cannabis has to offer – for healing, and fun.

What Are Cannabinoids?

There are at least 554 identified compounds in the Cannabis plant, among them 113 are exclusive to the Cannabis plant and called Cannabinoids. THC and CBD are by far the most common and the ones we know the most about. Cannabinoids were first discovered in the 1940s, but scientists are discovering new things all the time. So at the moment, they have identified 113 unique plant Cannabinoids, also called phytocannabinoids, each with their own interactions and benefits to our bodies. 

Up until today, scientists have learned that Cannabinoids can help reduce seizures and relive symptoms of pain, nausea, anxiety, inflammation, and cancer.

What Do They Do?

Cannabinoids are so good at helping us because our bodies produce the same molecules called Endocannabinoids to interact with a specific and wide system in our bodies. Yes, we have an inner system designed specifically for interacting with them – it’s called the endoCannabinoid system. This system’s main job is to make sure every other system stays balanced, maintaining the homeostasis of the body. So whenever something feels off, it produces Endocannabinoids that help put everything back in order. Endocannabinoids act as mediators, communicating with other cells and receptors and making sure everything is okay. 

The cool thing about phytocannabinoids, the ones in the Cannabis plant, is that they imitate the endocannabinoids in our bodies, and can provide similar soothing and beneficial effects.

The endocannabinoid system is made of endocannabinoid receptors. They are the ones that bind with endo- and phytoCannabinoids so that they can do their thing. So far, scientists are focusing on the two types they know the most about: CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are usually found in the brain, whereas CB2 receptors are commonly outside the central nervous system, like in the immune system or digestive system. Different Cannabinoids bind better to different receptors, which determines what sort of effect it will have.

These receptors are involved in varied physiological and pathophysiological roles in the body, including regulation of mood, appetite, pain sensation, vascular and nonvascular smooth muscle tone, and immune function.

For example, THC binds mostly with CB1 receptors in the brain, inciting a significant relaxation, pain relief, stimulation of appetite and fatigue, in the same way, CBD binds with receptors to provide its plethora of benefits. 

If THC and CBD have so many health and wellness properties, it stands to reason that the 111 others are pretty interesting, as well.

Of course, we won’t look at all of them – we don’t have all day – but Cannabis has plenty of helpful Cannabinoids to offer.

THE Mother of all Cannabinoids

Researchers call her the “mother of all Cannabinoids” because CBG (Cannabigerol) is the “stem cell” of most other Cannabinoids, and it’s her who decides how much of each Cannabinoid is present. When a Cannabis plant begins to sprout, the majority of Cannabinoids are CBG, and as the plant matures, Mother CBG converts into THC, CBD, and various other Cannabinoids. This role is what makes her so interesting to researchers. If they can figure out exactly how she works, they can more effectively tweak levels of Cannabinoids in plants to tailor them to specific ailments.

On her own, CBG also has a number of potential medical applications. According to research, CBG could potentially treat cancer, glaucoma, pain, inflammation, and anxiety, as well as a handful of bowel and bladder diseases. Unfortunately, CBG is difficult and expensive to isolate, and since manufacturers have to choose between CBD or THC and CBG, many are focusing on different Cannabinoids for the moment.

Cannabichromene (CBC)

Cannabichromene is a potent, non-psychoactive Cannabinoid that works better when friends are around. CBC stands out because it doesn’t actually bind to endocannabinoid receptors, freeing them up for other accompanying endo- or phytocannabinoids. CBC itself binds to other receptors like the vanilloid receptor 1 (TRPV1) and transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1), which are both linked to pain perception, causing the release of the endocannabinoid anandamide, often referred to as the “joy molecule” for its uplifting and soothing effects. It is thought that CBC inhibits the reuptake of anandamide, keeping it in the bloodstream for longer. This, along with studies showing its antitumor and anti-inflammatory properties, makes CBC a promising ally in the fight against cancer. 

When combined with THC, CBC has even more inflammation-busting powers. In a rodent study, THC and CBC together blocked the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and worked just as well, if not better, than typical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and without the side effects. 

The anti-inflammatory effects cover more than just pain, lending a hand to soothing acne as well. Researchers found that CBC was able to calm inflamed sebaceous glands as well as reduce oil production in the skin, similar to CBD.

On top of that, CBC is neuroregenerative, protecting the circuits in your brain from degenerating, and when in the company of friends THC and CBD, it has a powerful antidepressant effect.

Cannabinol (CBN)

CBN is unique in that it is the only Cannabinoid that doesn’t derive from CBG. It actually forms from the natural degradation of THC. When Cannabis is left out in the light and the air to oxidize, THC slowly breaks down into CBN, so the presence of this Cannabinoid often signals a loss of potency. Because of this, researchers say that CBN is non-psychoactive, however, some studies have shown that it can actually enhance the euphoric effects of THC. Not only that but when combined with low doses of THC, the pair proves to be an amazing sedative.

Like many of the other Cannabinoids we have looked at, CBN is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse and helps promote brain health by protecting our neurons and preventing them from degrading. CBN’s particular brand of anti-inflammation seems to work well for rheumatoid arthritis, but there hasn’t been a lot of research into this yet. 

Studies have shown, however, that CBN has potential as a powerful antibiotic. Scientists put it up against strains of MRSA that are typically resistant to antibiotics, and CBN kicked their butts. On top of that, CBN works as an effective appetite stimulant, which could help patients suffering from a low appetite without the psychoactive effects. In addition, cannabidiol shows promising results as a treatment for insomnia.

Similar But Different

If you have been exploring new Cannabis products, you may have already heard of Delta-8-THC. It is an isomer of Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, which we normally refer to as THC. That means that it’s like THC but rearranged a little bit.

Since Delta-8-THC came onto the market recently, recreational users have taken to dabbing or vaping it. It’s quite a bit less potent than normal THC, but it has much more powerful anti-anxiety, anti-nausea, and appetite-stimulating effects, making it perfect for patients who want less of a buzz.

 According to most research, Delta-8-THC is best at improving the lives of cancer patients. 

It has been strongly associated with the death of cancer cells and reductions in tumor size in rodent studies. Researchers in Jerusalem claim that cancer treatments with this Cannabinoid have been successful in 480 cases already. On top of that, Delta-8-THC is almost 200 percent more effective at preventing nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatments and it is great at stimulating the appetite so that cancer patients can keep their bodies fuelled up and ready to fight. 

According to the National Cancer Institute, delta-8-THC is a pain-reliever, appetite-stimulant, helps relieve anxiety and nausea, and promotes brain health with its neuroprotective properties.

Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)

These next two Cannabinoids, the ones that end in “-varin” are isometric homologues of their root compound. That means that they are similar to the root compound, but function slightly differently.

In THCV’s case, its root compound is THC, however, researchers can’t agree if it reduces the psychoactive effects of THC or enhances them.

This not-quite-THC Cannabinoid has shown that it may be able to help out in areas where THC’s side effects cause issues. For example, THCV doesn’t cause an increased heart rate like THC does, so it could be better for users with anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Plus, strains with higher amounts of THCV (such as Nightmare Cookies and some Indian landrace strains) usually produce more euphoric feelings that combat stress and panic attacks. 

THCV also doesn’t produce as much of a “munchies” effect as THC, and it encourages your body to expend more energy, making it ideal for users trying to lose a couple of pounds.

To add to the list, its anti-oxidant effects may grant neuroprotective properties that could protect against Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Studies have also shown it may help patients with diabetes regulate insulin and blood sugar.

Some studies suggest that THCV acts as an antagonist at CB1 receptors, meaning that it reduces, or dampens, the high you feel from THC. Others claim to have found that THCV is actually more potent than THC, making the high shorter, but more cerebral and intense. 

Some take a stance somewhere in the middle, arguing that THCV is like a THC and CBD love child, getting the best features from both sides. According to their research, at certain ratios THCV has a similar moderating effect to CBD, chilling out a strong high, however, when taken in larger doses THCV is, in fact, psychoactive – some say even more so than THC. 

Cannabidivarin (CBDV)

As you may have already guessed, CBDV is an isometric homolog of CBD. It has all the balancing and anti-inflammatory powers of CBD – but even better. 

CBDV’s specialty seems to be the brain. CBD naturally is a powerful anticonvulsant, but along with CBDV, the pair help to significantly reduce the severity of seizures for people with epilepsy. Researchers have concluded that CBDV interacts with the neurochemical pathway of the capsaicin receptors involved in the onset and progression of many different types of epilepsy. Pharmaceutical companies have already created an epilepsy drug from CBD and are currently working on a formulation with CBDV to help children and adults control their seizures and gain a better quality of life.

Additionally, some of the children with epilepsy also show signs of Autism Spectrum disorder, so CBDV is being investigated as a potential tool to help relieve symptoms like repetitive behavioural problems, cognitive challenges, and issues with communication and social functioning.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find a strain with a high enough concentration of CBDV to use for pharmaceuticals. The best strains for CBDV are usually indicas found in the Himalayas.

Despite this, CBDV has many other potential medical applications. Studies have shown that it can nearly eliminate nausea and vomiting in lots of different conditions, and like other Cannabinoids, it has strong anti-inflammatory properties that make it a wonder for diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which is characterized by chronic inflammation and irreversible damage to skeletal muscles. CBDV helps reduce the inflammation associated with the disease, restore muscle function and improve locomotion. 

Similarly, CBDV could have some promise in helping to treat Rett Syndrome, a chromosome mutation that causes girls to have seizures, speech issues, and muscle spasticity. Rodent studies have shown that CBDV helped with several symptoms associated with this and other similar conditions.

Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA) and Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)

Last, but not least, we come to the acids. THCA and CBDA, along with the acidic forms of the other Cannabinoids, are like baby Cannabinoids. They naturally occur in the plant and exist there until they are exposed to heat. You see, these babies can’t actually interact with our bodies yet because they still contain a carboxyl group, preventing them from entering the bloodstream and binding with cell receptors. 

That’s why we have to smoke, vape, or bake dried Cannabis to get any effect. Once they are exposed to heat, they lose their carboxyl group in a process called “decarboxylation”, which turns them into a form that our body can use.

Because of this, scientists have been slow to begin researching them, however, interest is starting to grow. According to a few young studies, these baby forms of Cannabinoids could have their own health benefits. For example, THCA has shown anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory properties, and CBDA could be another cancer-fighting Cannabinoid.

Can I Buy Cannabinoids?

The short answer is, yes! Most Cannabinoids are available in isolated form or in combination with CBD or THC.

Some may be more costly than others due to extraction methods and availability, so make sure you shop around and purchase from a reputable retailer that provides as much information as possible about the extraction process and what is actually in the product.

Joint Effort 

Unless you are dabbling with Cannabinoids to address a specific health problem, which you should always talk to your doctor about first, your best bet is to pick up a full or broad-spectrum Cannabis oil. That means that the manufacturers used the whole plant to make your extract, and it will have a wider array of Cannabinoids present. This is important because, as we have learned, Cannabinoids work better when they are together! A full spectrum is considered a better product not only for the benefit of each unique compound but also for a research-proven famous phenomenon called the Entourage Effect.

Customize with Cannabinoids

Now that we know about the many benefits Cannabis has to offer, we can use this knowledge to cater to an experience with Cannabis that is all our own.

Cannabinoids offer us the opportunity to be more intentional with our Cannabis use so that we can address specific concerns and decrease side effects. With a little bit of experimenting, Cannabinoids can help you find the perfect strain that works for you in all the right ways

 

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