Cannabis 101: What Are Cannabinoids?

We know a lot about the magical flower called cannabis but what are cannabinoids exactly, are there different types, and how are they extracted?

Saying that Cannabinoids and CBD have become buzzwords would be the understatement of the century.

It has benefits ranging from better skincare to treating seizures in children. So, on the surface, it sounds like humanity has found a miracle cure.

But, what are cannabinoids exactly? Because there is a reason why it’s in plural form.

Keep on reading to know all about the different types of cannabinoids, how they work, and their medical uses.

What Are Cannabinoids?

In the simplest of terms, cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds. They are produced naturally in the human body (endocannabinoids). And, they’re also present in cannabis plants (phytocannabinoids).

Cannabinoids’ interactions within the endocannabinoid system (ECS) can trigger a variety of physiological actions.

There are around 500 natural components in cannabis, and more than 100 of them are classified as phytocannabinoids.

Of course, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the rather famous phytocannabinoid compound. Its fame is mainly due to its psychoactive qualities. On the other hand, we have cannabidiol (CBD) which seems to play a huge rule in the plant’s medicinal benefits.

If you want to learn more about CBD, check out this guide for beginners for all the CBD information you could possibly need. Overall, CBD doesn’t produce any psychoactive effects and tends to be isolated for medical use.

As for the rest of the phytocannabinoids, there are many. We have compounds like Cannabigerol (CBG), Cannabichromene (CBC), Cannabidiol (CBL), and Cannabinol (CBN).

In the case of CBN, it’s gaining interest with medical researchers. CBN acts as a natural sedative, due to its analgesic qualities. And, it has anti-inflammatory and anti-convulsive properties.

For endocannabinoids, we have compounds like anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).

They play a big role in different essential bodily functions. These functions are metabolism, sensory perception, and central nervous system development.

What Are Cannabinoid Receptors?

Cannabinoid receptors are set cellular membranes. These membranes are present in the central nervous and immune systems, in addition to various organs.

Regardless of whether the cannabinoids are ‘Endo’ or ‘Phyto’, they either directly bind to these receptors. Or, they indirectly influence them.

According to external environmental changes or stressors, the ECS helps regulate a stable biological environment (homeostasis).

Maintaining homeostasis is essential for the human body. As such, drug companies manufacture synthetic cannabinoids to artificially. They replicate the natural processes created by the body and the cannabis plant.

It is widely acknowledged that the pharmaceutical product is rather inferior in comparison to the natural forms.

Cannabinoid Receptor Types

There are two main types of ECS receptors in the body.

Type 1 (CB1) is primarily in the central and peripheral nervous system, and type 2 (CB2) is mainly present in the immune system.

However, there is some cellular tissue that contains both types of receptors, each performing their roles.

In the case of THC, it binds directly to the cannabinoid receptors. On the other hand, CBD affects them indirectly by stimulating endocannabinoid production. In addition, it suppresses the enzyme that metabolizes the natural chemicals.

In addition, we have CBD and CBN as examples of phytocannabinoids that bind to non-cannabinoid receptors. They bind to receptors like 5-HT1A (serotonin) and TRPV1 (pain, inflammation).

How Do Cannabinoids Work?

The whole ECS is responsible for fundamental physiological processes. These processes include regulating mood and memory, pain sensation, and appetite.

Cannabinoids work as communication agents between different cells and systems.

The receptors —once activated— can trigger a wide variety of effects chemical, natural, and pharmacological in nature.

These effects include changing how we feel, on both the mental and physical side of the equation. The phytocannabinoids work by imitating the naturally occurring endocannabinoids produced in our bodies.

Furthermore, some researchers suggest that the ECS works as a bridge between the brain and the body. Mainly, the binding area for cannabinoids —specifically the one in the brain— dictates the way that cannabis will affect the body.

The affected areas encompass the limbic system. It affects memory and cognition as well as the mesolimbic pathway. The mesolimbic pathway is associated with the feelings of reward.

The whole methodology of medical cannabis treatments is mainly based on the practice of aiming the right type and quantity of cannabinoid at the right receptors.

What Are the Differences Between Cannabinoids?

The most important way of distinction between cannabinoids is based on their degree of psychoactivity.

For CBG, CBC and CBD, these cannabinoids aren’t known for their psychoactive qualities. On the other hand, we have THC, CBN, and CBDL —as well as other cannabinoids— which are known for different degrees of psychoactivity.

The most available —and studied— of the cannabinoids is CBD. It exhibits anti-anxiety effects, basically counteracting the psychoactive effects of THC.

Also, it’s a good idea to keep in mind how some cannabinoids react when exposed to the air. For example, THC oxidizes and forms CBN once it’s exposed to the air.

This lessens its psychoactive impact. That is why cannabis that has been left out can have fewer effects. When smoked, the higher levels of CBN to THC makes it less potent.

How Is Cannabis Treated as Medicine?

Looking at historical data, we can trace back cannabis use as a herbal medicine in Asia around 500 BC.

Yet, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved cannabis as a treatment for any medical condition.

However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) owns patents on a variety of cannabinoid properties. For example, they own a patent on the neuroprotectant properties of cannabinoids.

And, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that whole-plant marijuana appears to have some invaluable qualities of slowing cancer growth, and potentially killing specific types of cancer cells.

Moreover, NIDA also recognized THC anti-nausea properties, as well as CBD’s therapeutic potential for childhood epilepsy, seizures, mental health disorders, and other serious conditions.

Cannabinoid Research Is the Future

There are more benefits emerging from cannabinoid research every day. So, we can say that there is still so much to learn and so much to be gained from cannabinoids in the future.

“What are cannabinoids?” is now a question that you can easily answer. But, in order to keep up to date with the latest, make sure to come back to our blog section for more tips!