Cannabinoids are a group of chemicals that interact with our endocannabinoid system.
They can be either:
– produced in our body (Endocannabinoids)
– found in the plant Cannabis Sativa (Phytocannabinoids)
– synthesized in a lab. (Synthetic cannabinoids)
Similar to neurotransmitters, they bind to cannabinoid receptors located in nerve cells. With varying strengths of attraction (affinity) they are binding to CB1 or CB2 receptors to have a stimulating (agonistic) or blocking (antagonistic) effect.
If the cannabinoid is an agonist, it stimulates the receptor producing a biological reaction within the cell. The reaction depends on cannabinoids efficacy.
If the cannabinoid is an antagonist, it binds to the receptor with no interaction, producing no biological response. (denying other potential agonists to bind and influence on that receptor)
Simply put, cannabinoids help regulate cellular communication – they are messengers for information.
The cannabinoids share a similar effect on our endocannabinoid system, so we rather classify them by their origin:
Naturally produced in the body by humans and animals, they are essential for the function of the endocannabinoid system. Rather than being stored in our system, they are made on-demand when required. Biosynthesized as needed, they are quickly degraded by enzymes after completing their tasks.
Anandamide, the most researched endocannabinoid helps the body to regulate appetite, sleeping patterns, pleasure, reward. It also plays a role in hormone regulation and fertility. Partial agonist of CB1 receptor with little agonistic activity to CB2 receptor.
Is the most abundant endocannabinoid found in the body. Like anandamide, it is thought to be involved in important functions like the regulation of appetite, immune system functions and pain management. Full agonist of CB1/CB2 receptors with moderate affinity.
The physiological role of virodhamine still needs assessment. It is a partial agonist to the cannabinoid CB1 receptor and a full agonist to the CB2 receptor.
Acts as a full agonist at human CB2 cannabinoid receptors, and a partial CB1 agonist.
N-arachidonoyl dopamine (NADA)
Agonist of the CB1 receptor, NADA has shown alot of presence in all physiological processes.
Agonist of the CB1 receptor, oleamide has been characterized and identified as the signaling molecule responsible for causing sleep.
All these cannabinoids and all those yet to be discovered affect the receptors and our system in a different way. They are also made and broken down differently, so it’s still too hard to pinpoint their role.
Several other receptors, ranging from other G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) to ion channel and nuclear receptors, have been reported to interact with cannabinoids.
Phytocannabinoids are plant-produced chemicals, present in the resin that coats the surface of the cannabis plant, mostly concentrated in its flower. With more than 400 compounds in the cannabis plant, around 100 are cannabinoids. Most of them remain undiscovered and unstudied because their presence in the resin is very low. The cannabis plant is producing cannabinoids as a form of self-defense mechanism against pests. Why only this plant contains chemicals that interact so profoundly with our endocannabinoid system is still a mystery. Recent discoveries found other plants that produce compounds which affect our ECS! But because of a different structure, we call them non-classical cannabinoids or cannabimimetic.
For now, we will focus on major cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant:
The primary psychoactive ingredient of the cannabis plant. Resembling anandamide in its agonistic affinity to the CB1 receptors,THC is responsible for cerebral intoxication creating the “high” feeling. Tied to uses in religious ceremonies and healing practices through ancient history, the young population of the 60s also loved its mind-altering effects. Even with enormous therapeutic potential, THC can be held guilty of worldwide cannabis prohibition. Being the most researched cannabinoid with proven health benefits, THC is now becoming available in the form of medical cannabis. (cannabis with more than 0.2% THC)
The second most researched cannabinoid without any psychotropic effects. Having little affinity on the cannabinoid receptors, CBDs’ indirect impacts on the ECS are still being studied. A safe, natural, non-addictive substance with a list of benefits that doesn’t end, CBD is credited for the recent hemp revolution. With no negative side effects, CBD is legal and Available in a myriad of different products. Being used by moms and dads, kids and elders and even pets, CBD can make everyday life easier! And it can even save lives!
As the precursor of other cannabinoids, CBG is their foundation. Through the enzymatic process, the other cannabinoids are converted from the parent molecule CBG. The longer the plant matures, the less CBG is found in the resin, while the amounts of other cannabinoids increase. Just like CBD, CBG has antagonistic affinity with the CB1 receptors in the brain, which means it has no psychoactive properties. In fact it blocks the CB1 receptor as well as the 5-HT1A (serotonine receptor) which gives him significant therapeutic value and might be the next big thing!
Often appears as the second most prevalent cannabinoid after THC. Similar to CBD, it has little affinity to the CB1 receptor, which makes it non-psychoactive. It is thought to be the most powerful anti-cancer cannabinoid. CBC interacts with CB2 receptors in tumor cells, and from that interaction, surface antigens are produced. It is also believed it regenerates brain cells and stimulates their growth, which helps in treating illnesses like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
CBN isn’t produced by the cannabis plant but it is a breakdown product of THC. CBN is a result of incorrect storage of THC. When THC is exposed to excessive light or heat, the chemical structure changes and it becomes CBN.
Being a metabolite of THC, cannabinol has agonistic affinity to CB1 (although very little), which renders CBN somewhat psychoactive. A study also suggests that CBN is the most sedative cannabinoid.
A minor cannabinoid found in only some strains of cannabis. The only structural difference between THCV and THC is the presence of a propyl (3 carbon) group, rather than a pentyl (5 carbon) group, on the molecule. Though this variation may seem subtle, it causes THCV to produce very different effects than THC. These effects include a reduction in panic attacks, suppression of appetite, and the promotion of bone growth. THCV acts as an antagonist on the CB1 receptor and a partial agonist at the CB2 receptor.
Synthetic cannabinoids are man-made drugs that are similar to those found in the marijuana plant (Cannabis sativa L). When scientists in labs try to recreate cannabinoids found in nature, they can also alter the chemical structure to produce compounds with different effects. By modulating how they interact with our receptors, we can influence their final effect. This way cannabinoids with more specific actions, longer durations and lesser side effects can be made. Probably more unique cannabinoids were produced artificially then we can find in nature. While some of them are patented and used as pharmaceuticals, many more escaped into illicit markets.
JWH-018 JWH-0, 5F-AKB-48, AB-FUBINACA and more than 200 others
Are synthetic cannabinoids that never found their purpose in medicine. Having significant action on our endocannabinoid system (some can be hundreds of times more potent than THC) they are catered for a population whose purpose is getting “high”.
Because their chemical structure only resembles THC, they were not considered as illegal substances. These synthetic cannabinoids, often sprayed on herbal blends and marketed as legal cannabis replacements, could be easily bought online and even on the gas stations. Despite being labeled “not for human consumption”, these quickly hit the headlines because of people abusing them. Soon after their popularity rose, the governments around the world started to ban these chemicals. But being designer drugs, after one chemical structure got scheduled as illegal, 3 new legal ones emerged, with even more unknown effects on the human brain and body. These dangerous blends are still around, especially in places where cannabis laws are more strict.
Even if pharmaceutical companies can produce ultra-pure synthetic cannabinoids, with specific action at relatively lower costs, we still believe in the power of nature. With cannabis having a long history of human use and its effects are well known, why make something that we already have?
But beware, even if CBD oil is an all-natural, there are many cases where synthetic cannabinoids or other dangerous compounds are added to CBD products. This can greatly increase the risk potential, so always check if your product is lab tested!
Dronabinol (Marinol®) and Nabilone (Cesamet®)
Are synthetic versions of THC, used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy. Also used to stimulate appetite in patients with anorexia and AIDS to combat weight loss. Being similar to THC and binding to CB1 receptors they share similar characteristics in desired and undesired effects. They are available in pill form to take orally, prescribed when the usual drugs don’t work well.
Both medicines have been approved by FDA and can be obtained for these purposes in the US, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada and Spain.