The 4 Most Important Cannabinoids Found In Medical Marijuana
There are at least 113 active compounds found in the cannabis plant. These compounds are known as cannabinoids.
In this article we explore 4 of the most important cannabinoids and look at how they work, as well as their positive and negative effects.
When reading through this, remember to keep in mind that our understanding of cannabis and its compounds is far from complete.
Hence, it is hard to come to clear conclusions about cannabinoids and how they interact with our bodies.
Either way, this article will help you get a broader picture of some of the compounds in medical marijuana and the overall potential of cannabis as a medicine.
The Endocannabinoid System: Understanding The Basics
Before we begin looking at specific cannabinoids, it’s important to cover at least some basics of how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) works.
The ECS is a system made up of a variety of receptor cells. These receptors, known as CB1 and CB2, are essentially responsible for processing the compounds found in the cannabis plant.
When we consume cannabis, the cannabinoids released into our system activate these specific receptors and subsequently trigger a variety of responses in the body.
These responses can vary; the ECS is believed to be involved in managing a variety of bodily functions and processes, including memory, appetite, pain, mood, and more.
By causing certain reactions in the ECS, cannabinoids are therefore able to produce a variety of effects in the body, some of which may be beneficial in treating symptoms and medical conditions.
The 4 Most Important Cannabinoids Found In Medical Marijuana
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is like one of the popular kids at school; regardless of whether you like them or not, you know very well who they are.
Even those unfamiliar with cannabis are likely to have at least heard of THC.
This is mainly because it is the key psychoactive compound in cannabis and is therefore responsible for producing the iconic “high” we associate with the plant.
When THC is absorbed by our bodies, it usually produces a strong euphoria coupled with feelings of relaxation and sedation.
Despite being the key compound recreational cannabis users crave, THC also has a variety of medicinal benefits.
First and foremost, THC is a powerful analgesic; by interacting with cannabis receptors in our brain it is able to suppress pain signals sent to our brain via the central nervous system.
By suppressing those signals, THC is able to help reduce the severity of pain a patient may experience.
Seeing that pain is a symptom of a wide variety of medical conditions, THCs medical potential is very significant:
Chronic pain, for example, is a notoriously hard-to-treat condition that affects over 100 million Americans, and THC can (and is) proving to help some of these patients manage their symptoms.
Fibromyalgia is another difficult-to-treat condition characterized by chronic pain and affects over 10 million Americans.
According to a 2014 survey by the US National Pain Report, medical marijuana was ranked the most effective drug for treating fibromyalgia symptoms.
Apart from helping to manage pain, THC may also help in the treatment of a wide variety of other conditions:
Studies suggest it may help PTSD patients suppress traumatic memories.
Other research shows that THC and other cannabinoids can help lower intraocular pressure, which is the only way of treating glaucoma.
THC is also often hailed an extremely effective nightcap used by patients with insomnia and other sleeping disorders.
However, THC can also cause negative effects (like paranoia, anxiety, drowsiness, and sedation) in some people.
More importantly, the long-term use of THC has also been shown to alter brain structure, increase the risk of psychosis in susceptible individuals, and cause memory trouble.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is like another one of the cool kids at school.
Unlike THC, however, this cannabinoid isn’t renowned for its powerful psychoactive effects. In fact, CBD produces no psychoactive effects at all.
Instead, CBD is highly regarded as one of the main “medical” compounds found in the cannabis plant.
The compound first made headlines a few years ago when the news broke that US parents and doctors were using CBD-rich cannabis extracts to treat refractory forms of epilepsy in children.
One of the most iconic stories like this is that of Charlotte Figi, a young girl from Colorado, who relies on a CBD hemp extract (now known as Charlotte’s Web) to drive down her epileptic seizures.
After Charlotte’s story made international headlines, many more parents and doctors came out and made their stories heard.
The anecdotal evidence from these parents and doctors was hard to ignore, and research into CBD soon began in order to uncover exactly how this compound could do what countless antiepileptic drugs couldn’t.
While our understanding of CBD as an anticonvulsant isn’t complete, there is strong research supporting the compound's ability to reduce the seizures caused by branches of epilepsy like Dravet Syndrome.
Again, how CBD does this isn’t completely clear. However, it seems that, upon activating certain cannabinoid receptors in the brain, CBD can help restore order to the crazy firing of neurons in the brain which essentially cause a seizure.
However, CBD’s medical potential doesn’t stop there; like THC (and many of the other cannabinoids in this list), CBD may help control a wide variety of other symptoms and conditions as well.
These can include pain, anxiety, stress, depression, tremors caused by conditions like Tourette’s syndrome, and much more.
CBD can also have negative effects in some patients, causing fatigue, sleepiness, drowsiness, dry mouth, and more. However, it is generally considered a safe and well-tolerated compound.
Cannabichromene, or CBC, is another non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. While it doesn’t get as much attention as THC and CBD, this compound is relatively well-researched.
CBC is the second-most concentrated substance found in the cannabis plant after THC and also shows a lot of potential as a medicine.
Most notably, CBC has been shown to promote neurogenesis (or the regeneration of brain cells). This may subsequently render it useful in the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions like Huntington's and Alzheimer’s disease.
More specifically, CBC was found to help improve the function of neural stem progenitor cells which play a special role in helping the brain grow, develop, and recover from trauma or injury.
CBC has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties which may help alleviate the symptoms of a variety of conditions.
For example, CBC may help lower the inflammation caused by arthritis and subsequently reduce the pain patients experience in their joints.
It has also been shown to have unique antifungal, antiviral, and antidepressant effects.
Cannabigerol, or CBG, is less popular and studied than the cannabinoids we’ve examined up to this point.
Like CBD and CBC, CBG is a non-psychoactive compound and is similar to CBGA, the first cannabinoid to synthesize in the cannabis plant.
CBG was first discovered in 1964 and, since then, has been found to have a lot of promise as a medicinal compound.
Recent research (from 2015) suggests that the compound may help treat neurodegenerative disease like Huntington’s after the compound was shown to normalize Huntington’s genes in a test on rats.
A study from 2014 also found that CBG helped inhibit the growth of cancer cells in mice with colon cancer.
As we mentioned earlier, we still can’t claim to fully understand how any of the cannabinoids in this list work or how they interact with our body, and this is especially true for CBG. While the compound was discovered over 50 years ago, our understanding of it is minimal.
Unfortunately, most cannabis strains sold for medical use are bred to be rich in THC and/or CBD.
CBG, on the other hand, is usually only found in concentrations of 1% (or even lower) in most commercially produced strains today.
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