What are Cannabinoids?

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Through no fault of our own, most of us would struggle to define what cannabinoids are and where they come from.

You might be thinking cannabis is just something which gets you high…Right?

No, there is much more to it…

Cannabinoids are compounds found in plants and almost all living organisms. However, they are concentrated in cannabis and THC, the molecule in cannabis which gets you high is only one of more than 100 of them.

They interact with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), a system in charge of regulating internal balance within our body.

Acting as a regulator of other bodily functions, the ECS actively interacts with our immune and central nervous system. You can think of it as overseeing the wellbeing of our body, ensuring we are running in optimal condition.

We are going to walk through the difference between these different categories of cannabinoids and brief you on how they work in harmony with your ECS.

So hold tight for some rapid cannabinoid education!

But first, since your on a Cannabidiol (CBD) blog, you might have one simple clarifying question…

Is CBD a cannabinoid?

Yes, you guessed it!

CBD, like most cannabinoids is non-intoxicating type or more accurately phytocannabinoids (plant-derived).

While phytocannabinoids are technically found in a variety of plants, they are highly concentrated in cannabis.

CBD and THC are not the only ones either, researchers know there are 100+ of them, but scientists are sure there are many more, just undiscovered as of yet. As a matter of fact, two new cannabinoids were discovered in late 2019, called THCP and CBDP.

While THC and CBD are found abundantly in most marijuana and hemp strains, the remainder are only found in trace amounts, and as a consequence are grouped under the name minor cannabinoids.

Given the rapid rise of CBD and interest around the benefits of CBD oil, both scientists and manufacturers have begun to look at which of the minor cannabinoids could be next in line to dethrone CBD from its crown….We will have to wait to see if that’s possible!

How do they work?

Cannabinoids can be thought of as messengers of the ECS, activating cannabinoid receptors in the body signalled from ECS activity. 

Working similarly as to how you might think of adrenaline as an agent of our central nervous system.

The ECS has 2 receptors called CB1 and CB2, from which cannabinoids derive their effects.

Depending on the cannabinoid, they each have different levels of affinity for these receptors. 

For example, the psychoactive effects of THC (the high) is only possible because THC can attach to the CB1 node in the same way in which a key can unlock a door, being a perfect fit.

CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t match with either of the cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it is thought to alter the shape of CB2, making it more difficult to bind to other cannabinoids.

To learn more about this magical system, take a glance at our post about the Endocannabinoid System.

What are the main cannabinoids?

These compounds can be split into three primary categories:

  • Phytocannabinoids: Derived from plants but primarily cannabis, examples include THC and CBD but many more exist.
  • Endocannabinnoids: Produced by our body (in addition to most living things) and circulated around our body via our ECS.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids: Man-made cannabinoids to serve a specific purpose. Marinol (Dronabinol) is the most common one, mirroring the effects of THC (delta-9); it is the only FDA licensed cannabinoid as a medicine in the United States.

Phytocannabinoids

Cannabis doesn’t make the common phytocannabinoids we know today. Instead, it produces acids which later turn into compounds such as CBD and THC.

Known as phytocannabinoid acids, these precursor chemicals are located on the surface of cannabis trichomes situated on the flowers. Covering them like a dusty glaze along with terpenes giving cannabis its pungent aroma.

There are eight primary acids which are synthesised into fully-fledged cannabinoids, through a process called decarboxylation – where heat or ultraviolet light alters their chemical structure.

8 major Cannabinoids

Of these, only THC will get you high. As a result, the rest are currently in the early stages of exploration for their potential therapeutic uses. 

Although, CBG and CBN are already making waves the United States as compounds of interest in the wellness and scientific community.

cannabinoid acids to cannabinoids
cannabinoid acids

Endocannabinoids

Interestingly, the discovery of plant-derived cannabinoids is what led to scientists unravelling the web of the ECS along with endocannabinoids.

While you might hear talk about CBD and THC, you probably don’t hear much about 2-AG or Anandamide, the endocannabinoids circulating in your body right now.

These compounds interact with cannabinoid receptors in the same way plant-derived ones do, which means they have similar methods of action.

The most common two cannabinoids are known as 2-AG and Anandamide.

2-AG is short for 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. It is a complete antagonist of both cannabinoid receptors, binding completely. Research suggests it plays a role in the function of our circulatory system affecting the vessels located in the heart. 

Interestingly, 2-AG is also found in significant quantities in breast milk, and scientists hypothesise this is to promote neonatal suckling of milk from the breast. Research also suggests 2-AG plays a part in the feeling of contentedness released post-orgasm.

Anandamide translates as bliss in Sanskrit, and its levels in our body are associated with our happiness. With pre-clinical research suggesting it can act as the bodies natural anti-depressant. 

Furthermore, in a recent clinical study scientists observed that CBD consumption promoted anandamide production. It is also associated with runners high, with research suggesting more of the chemical is released during exercise giving a feeling of an endorphin high.

Synthetic cannabinoids

You might have heard of spice, previously sold as a legal (high) substitute to cannabis. Spice contains a type of synthetic cannabinoid which emulates the effects of THC but at a much stronger magnitude. 

Its use has been associated with paranoia and even death.

Fortunately, there are also other legitimate applications of synthetic cannabinoids. With one being an FDA approved medication: Marinol (Dronabinol). Often used as a treatment for the side effects of chemotherapy, to manage nausea and vomiting.

Final Word

Hopefully, this post has shed some light on some questions you had and given you some further insight to walk away with.

However, It’s clear that our understanding of cannabinoids is far from complete, and we are a long way away from fully understanding the workings of these compounds.

As research interest continues to circle around cannabis, its more than likely we will learn more about these molecules and their potential uses…Stay tuned!

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Disclaimer: Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Nature & Bloom and its staff. This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention for any disease. Nature & Bloom products have not been evaluated by the MHRA.