Everything You Need To Know About Cannabinoids

To many of us in 2019, the word cannabis conjures up an almost instant sensory affinity of both smell and taste. A smell so distinct your nose twitches like a blood hound tracking a scent in the undergrowth, every time it graces your nostrils. The lessons of a somewhat misspent youth, where your mate’s flat played host to a gathering of otherwise street dwelling delinquents looking for shelter to “skin up”. Coppering up to scrape enough for a “fiver wrap” and a packet of Rizzla, before embarking on a 3 hour intellectual debate about the universe and all of its misgivings. Most of us have been there, some still are. Except we’ve now changed our perception somewhat on how important this plant actually is. It’s no longer a means to escape the shackles of a teenage reality, or just a far better alternative to crappy alcohol; age and wisdom have taught us cannabis can be used for much more useful applications. And like anything else, if it’s understood, and respected, it can be a very powerful foe. 

But what is it that makes cannabis so special? What gives this little plant magical properties, and why does it seem to be helping so many people overcome such a diverse range of issues?

Cannabinoids - rolls right off the tongue once you’ve said it several times; it’s almost like the word was always in your vocabulary, but lost somehow in the deep recesses of the hippocampus. Cannabinoids, there, I've said it again (no doubt you echoed me out loud this time) -  these are very special little compounds. Not only do they contribute to over a hundred of the complex compounds that make up the cannabis plant anatomy, but in a not too dissimilar form, they also appear in breast milk. Without going over old ground we’ve covered in a previous article, it’s enough to know that if you were breast fed, you drank your share of cannabinoids; in this case, endocannabinoids. The ones you spent many of your teenage years becoming acquainted with, are of the ‘phyto’ variety - phytocannabinoids. 

What are Cannabinoids? 

According to the Russian Chemical Bulletin, International Edition, Vol. 64, No. 6, pp. 1249—1266, June, 2015 - ’Cannabinoids are a group of biologically active terpenophenols derived from 2-substituted 5-amyl-resorcinol, which are found in cannabis (Cannabis sativa) and cannabis products (e.g., marijuana and hashish), as well as their synthetic analogs, capable of binding to cannabinoid receptors’.  Pretty slick translation, if you ask me.

Basically, for the less chemistry minded - or those who just can’t be arsed reading the boring stuff, cannabinoids are ‘Any of a group of closely related compounds which include cannabinol (CBN) and the active constituents of cannabis’. And that’s according to the Oxford Dictionary definition. 

What Are Phytocannabinoids?

Science doesn’t know exactly how many phytocannabinoids there are, but from the knowledge garnered so far, we have established there are over 100 of these sexy little compounds. The best known cannabinoids haven’t been detected in any other plant and seem to be unique to cannabis. The only way for cannabinoids such as CBD and THC to be present in other plants, is by manipulating DNA - this has allegedly been done recently by using yeast and also hops. Botanists, plant scientists and phytologists the world over will no doubt tell us it’s not possible for other plants to produce cannabinoids such as CBD and THC, as they just don’t possess the DNA to create the necessary enzymes involved in production. However, plants are capable of producing the precursor molecules needed to synthesise cannabinoids, and therefore through the presence of hexanoic acid and geranyl diphosphate, cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) can be created. Unfortunately, this is where other plants go as limp as a wet flannel when it comes to creating any further cannabinoids; without the necessary enzymes, CBGA cannot be converted to CBD or THC. 

So whilst we leave science to continue delving into the complexities of the cannabis plant anatomy, we’ll just focus on the cannabinoids you’ve heard of, as well as one or two others, which will help to fill the 2000 word quota for this blog. 

We’ll start with CBG, which seems appropriate as this is where it all starts for cannabinoids such as CBD and THC. Cannabigerol (CBG) is known as the Granddaddy of cannabinoids and as it is the precursor to other cannabinoids, it’s often only found in small amounts - less than 1% in most strains. CBG is fast becoming a hot topic, but as we’re bound by governing bodies in the UK, we can’t share the potential benefits with you - Google on the other hand, is a neat little research tool and not bound by stupid governing bodies. 

As cannabis plants grow, enzymes break down the CBG into THC, CBD and CBC. Of these three, Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is possibly the most famous. This was the only one your teenage self had heard of, and the only one you cared about whilst you were baking in your mates flat on a Saturday afternoon. As the psychoactive component of cannabis, THC has received a seriously bad rep over the years. We hear all kinds of horror stories about psychosis, paranoia and even violent crime - yep, there are those who actually believe THC causes violent behaviour. Maybe someone should point these individuals in the direction of alcohol and meth - I’m sure there’s a much stronger correlation between these substances and violent crime. 

Anyway, THC is illegal in the UK, so I’m not gonna sit here and write an endorsement on using it. But, if you are going to indulge in marijuana, remember to respect the weed - if you abuse it, eventually it’ll eat you up and spit you out. Marijuana strains in this day and age are much stronger than they used to be, and some have a THC content of 25% plus. At this level, if you’re going to use on the regular and without moderating, you can probably expect some negative consequences in the long term. 

So as a 41 year old experienced user of cannabis, I’m now well over the days where I’d want to sit and smoke until I was baked into oblivion. My cannabinoid of choice these days is CBD, and the feeling it gives me personally, is one of relaxation and contentment. Unfortunately that’s just about all I’m allowed to say on the benefits of CBD, otherwise those pesky governing bodies will be all over this website like cheese on pizza. What I can say about CBD, is this amazing little compound is gathering much interest in health circles across the world, and people are genuinely feeling the benefits. Some are using CBD isolates, and others are opting for full spectrum CBD products. Whichever you choose, I can assure you, as long as the quality is high, the results will be very pleasing. 

For me at least, CBD seems to have a high affinity with my body’s own cannabinoid system - the endocannabinoid system or ECS. This affinity, although not fully understood yet, is a result of CBDs ability to bind to several none cannabinoid receptors and ion channels. Strangely, CBD doesn’t have a particularly high binding affinity to the cannabinoid receptors - CBD1  (found mainly in the brain) and CBD2 (mainly in the immune system), unlike THC and CBN. However, CBD does bind well to other targets, including some G-protein coupled receptors, serotonin receptors and TRP (transient receptor potential) channels -found outside of the ECS. 
But what does this mean? Basically, CBD and other cannabinoids act as a key(s) to various locks in the brain and other areas of the body, which once “unlocked”, modulate various other systems and result in favourable outcomes (and I said that without making any medical claims!). 

Another of the “big 6” cannabinoids, but often unheard of, is CBC. Discovered just over 50 years ago, Cannabichromene (CBC) is a non-psychoactive grandchild of CBGA, found in relatively low levels in cannabis plants. It is thought CBC works in a similar way to CBD, and by binding with our body’s own cannabinoid system (ECS) indirectly through the stimulation of endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG. CBC achieves this by first binding to other receptors - TRPV1 and TRPA1. Once these receptors are activated, anandamide and 2-AG are released. 

CBC is a well known potentiator of the ‘Entourage Effect’. Nope that’s not a Netflix series, but rather a very clever little mechanism by which all of the cannabinoids contribute to amplifying the effects of all of the rest, and the effects of other phytonutrients. The Entourage Effect, is the synergy, co-operation, alliance or whatever you want to call it, of the whole plant. This is the reason ‘Full spectrum’ is so important. 

A little bit about cannabinol (CBN) - with science still investigating the full potential of CBN, it’s not widely known how much this cannabinoid can benefit us, but it does seem to be responsible for some of the sedative effects associated with cannabis. That said, it is only really present in very small amounts (1%) and is mainly a result of the degradation of THC over time. Trace amounts of CBN will certainly contribute to the entourage effect and may even help you catch some extra zeds. 

What Are Endocannabinoids?

Endocannabinoids are endogenous ligands of the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Or in plain English, they are proteins produced in the body, that attach to other proteins (receptors). Of the various systems that make up the human body,  the endocannabinoid system is said to be  “The most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health”. And yet we are only just being made aware of this. The ECS helps to achieve balance (homeostasis) in our bodies. This affects sleep, mood, memory, appetite, inflammation, pain and even reproduction. 
Cannabinoids manufactured in the body include Anandamide or AEA, 2-AG, 2-Arachidonyl glyceryl ether (noladin ether), N-Arachidonoyl dopamine (NADA), Virodhamine (OAE) and Lysophosphatidylinositol (LPI). These cannabinoids are synthesised on demand and serve as signalling molecules, activating receptors CB1 and CB2. The topic of endocannabinoids is a complex one, and it probably deserves a blog of its own. For now it’s enough to know, the two major endocannabinoids are AEA and 2-AG. They produce most of their effects by binding to both CB1 and CB2. 

If you take anything from this blog, it should be that cannabinoids (keys) work by acting on various receptors (locks) and molecular targets in the body and brain. They all have different affinities for each of the “locks”, but when used together (the Entourage Effect), their propensity to heal is second to none.