Cannabinoids 101

We all love cannabis, but how well do you know this amazing plant? What makes cannabis so unique and beneficial? One answer is cannabinoids. Cannabawhat? Can-na-bi-noids. Got it? Well, even if you don’t, we got you. Welcome to Cannabinoids 101, our guide to everything you need to know about cannabinoids, including how these potent compounds work in the body and their limitless therapeutic potential. Are you ready to get to know your weed? Class is in session!

What are Cannabinoids?

Everyone loves a frosty nug. Sure, they’re pretty. But this glistening beauty is way more than skin deep.

Trichomes are those sticky, resinous glands found on the surface of the cannabis flower. They crystalize when those flowers are cured. Trichomes are what give that exotic eighth its glistening, frosty sheen. Cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in those trichomes.

Cannabinoids both causes and influence the effects you feel when you use cannabis, such as relaxation, euphoria, or pain relief. This is why that crystallized, frosty appearance is so coveted. More trichomes = a higher concentration of cannabinoids present (We love that math!)

Cannabinoids are also critical to maintaining the health of the cannabis plant. For example, recent research suggests cannabinoids may act as sunscreen to protect the plant by absorbing harmful UV-B radiation. Trichomes and cannabinoids may also prevent overheating, mitigate water loss, and deter predatory insects and pests.

How many cannabinoids are there?

While cannabinoids may be found in other plants, there are more than 100 different cannabinoids found in cannabis. This makes the cannabis plant the most varied and plentiful source of cannabinoids on earth. 

How Cannabinoids Work

Cannabinoids are produced as non-psychoactive cannabinoid acids such as THCA and CBDA. Before THCA and CBDA can become the psychoactive cannabinoids THC and CBD, they must be activated. Heating cannabis is what activates these acids. The process is called decarboxylation. So when you smoke that preroll, the process of firing it up and burning the weed converts THCA into THC so that it can interact with the human endocannabinoid system, and its effects can be experienced.

The Endocannabinoid System

You, me, and every other human have an endocannabinoid system (“ECS”). If we didn’t, weed wouldn’t work!

The ECS maintains homeostasis in body processes such as mood, sleep, pain, appetite, and memory. It is a kind of signaling network made up of cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the body) located throughout the body. Moreover, new evidence suggests that “the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a vital nexus in the brain-gut axis, serving as a critical regulator of intestinal homeostasis.”

The human body has two types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. Endocannabinoids stimulate these receptors. However, endocannabinoids aren’t the only thing that stimulates CB1 and CB2 receptors. The cannabinoids in cannabis mimic endocannabinoids and bind with those receptors. This is how cannabis causes euphoria, pain relief, or relaxation. 

But while every human has an endocannabinoid system, no two are the same. The human ECS are like fingerprints. This is why the same cannabis may affect individuals differently. While you might blaze some Sativa in the morning to motivate and inspire you, that same Sativa could cause someone else so much anxiety that they can’t leave the house. Why? We don’t quite know yet. More research is needed.

The Cannabinoids You Need to Know

While there are more than 100 different cannabinoids in cannabis, CBD and THC are the most well-known and well-researched.  

THC and CBD 

Almost everyone’s heard of CBD and THC. These cannabinoids are found in much higher concentrations in cannabis than the other cannabinoids. 

While some describe CBD as non-psychoactive, that’s not correct. CBD is a mood-altering substance. The latest research indicates that CBD may affect how your brain’s chemical receptors respond to serotonin to produce anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. So, when people use the term “non-psychoactive,” they mean “not intoxicating.” This is more accurate. CBD does not get you high. This contrasts with THC, an intoxicant that definitely gets you high.

What is CBD?

To review, CBD is one of the most common cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. This is because it interacts with the human endocannabinoid system, which helps keep the body balanced.

Another difference between CBD and THC is that CBD doesn’t bind to the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, CBD does affect the interactions between these receptors and other cannabinoids. 

By way of example, CBD may buffer the anxiety-inducing effect of THC by binding to other cannabinoid receptors, which may prevent THC from activating them. The result is a less intense psychoactive effect, making products that blend CBD and THC an excellent choice for THC-sensitive users.

CBD Therapeutic Properties

CBD has a wide range of therapeutic uses, and that list is expanding as more studies become available. While more research is needed, humans presently use CBD to treat the following symptoms and conditions:

  • Epilepsy and seizure disorders
  • Inflammation
  • PTSD and anxiety
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Insomnia
  • Opioid withdrawal

What is THC?

Most cannabis strains are THC-dominant. This makes THC the most abundant cannabinoid. Unlike CBD, THC interacts directly with the endocannabinoid system.

THC is known as the good time cannabinoid, and for a very good reason – it’s the cannabinoid that gets you high. THC produces this feeling by interacting with the endocannabinoid system as a CB1 and CB2 agonist. When THC binds to those cannabinoid receptors and activates them, it produces that high sensation. 

But what most people don’t know is that THC is about so much more than just a good time. For many humans suffering from debilitating medical conditions or chronic illnesses, the high THC induces psychological relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression.

THC Therapeutic Benefits

Like CBD, THC also has a wide range of therapeutic uses. There is mounting evidence that THC may treat the following symptoms and conditions: 

  • Nausea
  • Insomnia 
  • Poor appetite
  • Inflammation and Pain
  • Glaucoma
  • Gastrointestinal conditions
  • PTSD
  • Migraines
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Neurodegenerative conditions

Interestingly, there is additional evidence that CBD and THC may work better together in a theory called “The Entourage Effect.”

Benefits of Taking CBD and THC Together

The cannabis plant is incredibly complex. Beyond the 100+ different cannabinoids, there are also hundreds of terpenes (essential oils) in cannabis. Each unique cannabis cultivar features different combinations of these compounds. 

Most agree that the different combinations of these compounds in unique cultivars are why they look, smell, and taste different. However, there is controversy over whether these compounds work together to create different effects.

The term entourage effect was first used by the chemists Raphael Mechoulam and Shimon Ben-Shaba in 1999 to describe their theory that the compounds in cannabis all work together to create therapeutic effects. Their theory was novel because it conflicted with the established theory that attributed all marijuana’s effects to THC.

The entourage effect is still debated in the contemporary scientific community. Notwithstanding, an emerging body of evidence supports the idea that THC and CBD have a synergistic effect on each other. 

How CBD and THC Work Together

Numerous recent studies suggest that CBD and THC work better when used together.

How CBD Helps THC

There is presently ample evidence to support the theory that CBD may modulate the effects of THC.

  • CBD may improve the pain-relieving capability of THC.
  • CBD may buffer THC-induced anxiety.

Anecdotally, the belief that CBD may help with the negative side effects of THC is widely accepted within the cannabis community. This corroborates the studies that suggest CBD may temper the unwanted side effects of THC.

While no scientific research establishes precisely how CBD modulates the effects of THC, the theory that CBD changes how the body processes THC by impacting how THC interacts with CB1 cannabinoid receptors is promising. But again, more research is needed.

How THC Helps CBD

A great way to wrap your head around this is to just turn it around. If CBD enhances THC’s pain-relieving effect, then it is equally true that THC enhances CBD’s pain-relieving effect. What’s essential to understand is that they work better together than they do in isolation. 

Further, this synergistic capability is not limited to pain relief. For example, a study regarding the neuroprotective capability of CBD found that CBD may be more effective when taken with THC, even in trace quantities. 

Is There an Ideal CBD to THC Ratio?

While recent studies support the entourage effect theory, they raise another question. What’s the ideal ratio of CBD to THC? Unfortunately, we don’t have the answer to this question. Yet again, more research is needed. 

In many cases, the ideal ratio may be a matter of preference or dependent on what effects a person is looking for. By way of example, a person with epilepsy using cannabis to decrease seizures may want a different ratio of CBD to THC than a cancer patient treating nausea.

Minor Cannabinoids

There are many more naturally occurring lesser-known cannabinoids in cannabis. Minor cannabinoids may also play a key role in influencing the effect of cannabis.

  1. Cannabichromene (CBC): CBC is the third most prominent cannabinoid. CBC is a potent anti-inflammatory with the potential to be more beneficial than CBD as an antidepressant. CBC does not produce a euphoric high like THC and is psychoactive but not an intoxicant. CBC binds with specific cannabinoid receptors linked to pain perception.
  2. Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV): THCV may suppress appetite and help manage weight. This minor cannabinoid may also treat diabetes by affecting insulin resistance. 
  3. Cannabigerol (CBG): CBG may boost anandamide, the bliss chemical. Science has also shown that CBG has therapeutic potential for chronic pain. 
  4. Cannabinol (CBN): Having trouble with sleep? CBN may have sedative effects and help people with insomnia.
  5. Why Don’t We Know More about Cannabinoids? 

You already know what we’re going to say next, don’t you? If you guessed, “More research is needed,” you nailed it. It’s a strange thing. We can send a satellite into orbit and have a device in our hand that can answer almost any question you can ask…except for some fundamental questions about the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids. 

Why is that? 

Because the federal law has stifled cannabis research for the last 50 years. 

In 1970, the Nixon administration formed the Shafer Commission to “study” the dangers of cannabis. This commission concluded that cannabis posed no serious threat to public health and safety and recommended decriminalization. But the committee was ignored. Instead, the whole study was a setup for Nixon to weaponize drug laws in his war on Civil Rights and the Anti-War Movement.

When President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act into law, despite the Shafer Commission’s conclusions, cannabis was placed on Schedule I. Schedule I is reserved for only those considered dangerous or unsafe, with a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use. Because of this, another terrible consequence of the law was that cannabis research became federally prohibited.

While some research is emerging and cannabis has been legalized in many states, it’s important to note that cannabis remains on Schedule I today. If we ever want answers to all our cannabinoid questions in the palm of our hands, taking cannabis off Schedule, I would do more to advance that cause than anything.

Learn more with WHTC!

WHTC welcomes you to our cannabis community. While we always strive to provide the best menu in cannabis, we work just as hard to be your trusted resource for learning more about cannabis. Drop by anytime to take your cannabinoid journey with WHTC, or order online for discrete delivery!