What Are Cannabinoids?
At CannaBloom, we often get asked “what are cannabinoids?”, so in this little article we will explain as best as possible what cannabinoids are, how they interact with the body and how they were first discovered.
A Brief Introduction to Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids are a diverse group of chemical compounds that are naturally found in the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). These compounds are known for their wide range of effects on the human body and have been the subject of increasing scientific interest and research in recent years. Cannabinoids interact with specific receptors in the body, producing various physiological and psychological effects.
There are over 100 different cannabinoids that have been identified in cannabis, and each one has its own unique properties. The most well-known and widely studied cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis and is responsible for the “high” or euphoric feeling often associated with cannabis use. On the other hand, CBD is non-intoxicating and has gained attention for its potential therapeutic benefits.
Cannabinoids are primarily produced in the resinous glands of the cannabis plant, known as trichomes. These trichomes are most abundant in the flowers or buds of the female cannabis plant, but they can also be found in smaller amounts on the leaves and stems. The concentration and composition of cannabinoids can vary significantly depending on the strain of cannabis and the growing conditions.
Cannabinoids are split into two different types – phytocannabinoids (produced from plants) and endocannbinoids (produced within the body).
The discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the human body has shed light on the mechanisms through which cannabinoids exert their effects on our bodies. (Check out our other blog for more details on the ECS). The ECS is a complex regulatory system that plays a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis, or balance, in the body. It consists of three main components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids naturally produced by the human body. The two most well-known endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These endocannabinoids are synthesised on demand and act as chemical messengers, binding to cannabinoid receptors to regulate various physiological processes.
Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body, with the two primary types being cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2). CB1 receptors are predominantly located in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are mainly found in immune cells and peripheral tissues. When activated by endocannabinoids or external cannabinoids, these receptors initiate specific signalling pathways that modulate a wide range of functions, including pain perception, mood, appetite, immune response, and inflammation.
Enzymes are responsible for the breakdown and degradation of endocannabinoids once they have fulfilled their function. The main enzymes involved in this process are fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), responsible for breaking down anandamide, and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL), which breaks down 2-AG.
In addition to THC and CBD, other cannabinoids like cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabichromene (CBC) have gained attention for their potential therapeutic properties.
What is Anandamide?
Anandamide, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the human body, is classified as an endocannabinoid that interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). Referred to as the “bliss molecule,” it is thought to contribute to feelings of happiness and well-being. The synthesis of anandamide from arachidonic acid allows it to bind with both CB1 and CB2 receptors within the ECS. Anandamide plays a role in various physiological processes, such as appetite, pain, mood, and sleep. Additionally, it participates in immune system regulation and is believed to possess anti-inflammatory properties. Factors like stress, exercise, and diet can impact anandamide levels in the body. Some researchers propose that increasing anandamide levels through natural supplements or lifestyle adjustments may offer potential health benefits, including inflammation reduction, relaxation promotion, and mood enhancement.
It is worth noting that cannabinoids are not limited to the cannabis plant. Some cannabinoids can also be found in other plants, such as Echinacea and chocolate. However, the concentrations and effects of these cannabinoids differ from those found in cannabis.
How Were Cannabinoids Discovered?
We have covered this topic in much more detail within our (ECS) blog, but briefly follows the timeline:
- Isolation of Cannabinol (CBN): In 1896, British chemist Thomas Wood was the first to isolate and describe the cannabinol (CBN) compound from Indian hemp resin.
- Identification of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): In 1964, Israeli chemist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, along with his colleagues, successfully identified and isolated delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. This breakthrough allowed for a better understanding of the effects of cannabis on the human body.
- Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, researchers were investigating how THC exerted its effects in the body. This led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex cell signalling system present in humans and other animals. The ECS comprises cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids (cannabinoids naturally produced by the body), and enzymes involved in their synthesis and degradation.
- Identification of Cannabidiol (CBD): CBD was first isolated in 1940 by American chemist Dr. Roger Adams. However, its structure was not fully elucidated until several years later. Dr. Mechoulam and his team were able to clarify the structure of CBD in 1963.
- Discovery of Other Cannabinoids: In addition to THC and CBD, researchers have since discovered and studied numerous other cannabinoids, including cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN), and many more.
Why is Cannabinoid Research So Exiting?
Cannabinoid research is exciting for several reasons:
- Therapeutic Potential: Cannabinoids, particularly CBD and THC, have shown promising potential in the medicinal industry.
- Understanding the Endocannabinoid System: The discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and its role in regulating various physiological processes has opened up new avenues of research. Exploring the ECS can provide insights into the functioning of our bodies and how cannabinoids interact with this system to produce various effects. This knowledge can lead to a deeper understanding of human biology and potential therapeutic targets.
- Novel Treatment Options: Traditional pharmaceutical approaches may not always provide satisfactory outcomes for certain conditions or may come with unwanted side effects.
- Unexplored Cannabinoids: While THC and CBD have received significant attention, there are many other cannabinoids present in cannabis that have yet to be fully explored. These lesser-known cannabinoids, such as CBG, CBC, and CBN, may possess unique properties that we are so far unaware of. Investigating their potential effects and mechanisms of action could uncover new potential.
- Safety and Regulation: As the popularity of cannabinoids and cannabis-derived products continues to grow, there is a need for robust research to establish safety profiles, proper dosing guidelines, and potential interactions with other medications. This research can inform regulatory decisions, allowing for the development of comprehensive policies and standards to protect consumers and promote responsible use.
Overall, cannabinoid research holds great promise for advancing our understanding of the therapeutic potential of these compounds, developing new treatments, and supporting the well-being of individuals.
We hope you have enjoyed reading our “What Are Cannabinoids?” post. If you are interested in reading more about the wonderful world of cannabis, take a look at our other post here.