If we've learned anything about the cannabis plant in recent times, it's that it's chock-full of beneficial cannabinoids and other chemical compounds.
There's an entire laundry list of therapeutic and pharmacokinetic benefits that come with cannabis—yet we've only begun to make a dent in what the different cannabis strains are capable of. While the plant as a whole is largely under-researched, scientists have become much more acquainted with the plant's compounds and cannabinoids.
More specifically, they're beginning to unpack how each cannabinoid is fully formed, as well as what their benefits are in their raw state. To learn more about how the cannabis plant synthesizes hundreds of cannabinoids and which are the ones we're focused on right now, keep reading.
The Cannabis Plant and its Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids are the naturally occurring chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. Also referred to as phytocannabinoids, there are well over 120 of them within each plant—that we know of.
Cannabinoids are the very molecules that give the cannabis plant its psychoactive and non-psychoactive properties. For example, THC and CBD, which you likely know by now what they are and what they do in the human body. (in case you're unaware, the long and short of it is that THC gives you a euphoric high as a side dish to its beneficial properties, while CBD contributes to a wealth of therapeutic benefits without the high).
Cannabinoids are almost identical to the endogenous cannabinoids—endocannabinoids—naturally produced by the human body. That's right; our bodies were made for the cannabis plant. It's all thanks to our endocannabinoids system (ECS), which is responsible for maintaining homeostasis throughout all the body's systems.
For example, when we feel cold, our ECS works to release endocannabinoids to warm us up. This is precisely what causes us to shiver and shake when we're cold. Those involuntary muscle movements are a means to create body heat. Pretty cool, right?
As we continue to study the cannabis plant and learn more about how it functions on a molecular level—and how we can manipulate those molecules to do our body's healthy bidding—we've zeroed in on eight major cannabinoids.
For a while, THC and CBD were the stars of the cannabinoid show. However, if you've been paying attention to the latest in cannabis strains news, you've probably heard of Delta-8-THC, which is less powerful than the traditional Delta-9-THC and promises to get you high without the paranoia.
That's just one example of how the cannabis plant can cater to the masses, and it's all thanks to its various cannabinoids. Now, here's the break down of the other cannabinoids aside from THC and CBD making waves:
Cannabigerol (CBG) has been coined the "mother" of all cannabinoids. This is because it converts itself into other cannabinoids. Namely THC and CBD. It begins its life as a non-psychoactive cannabinoid and forms as the cannabis plant begins its early growth stages. Therefore, growers must harvest the CBG before it begins to change forms.
While scientists aren't quite sure just yet what triggers the conversion to begin, but we do know that CBG has shown potential for treating cancer, glaucoma, anxiety, pain, inflammation, and other ailments. Once scientists figure out what triggers the conversion and into which cannabinoid, they can likely develop specific cannabis strains that yield higher concentrations of THC, CBD, and CBG.
Cannabinol (CBN) is the only cannabinoid that we know of, which isn't formed from a CBG conversion. Instead, CBN is formed by the breakdown of THC. As THC degrades due to its exposure to oxygen, it begins to convert to CBN.
While this is a sign that your THC is going bad—as in, it loses its potency—CBN still has medicinal applications. It can be used as a sedative, a pain reliever, and an antibiotic.
Cannabichromene (CBC) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid notable for its "ensemble effect." The ensemble effect, not to be confused with the famous entourage effect, occurs when two or more cannabinoids enhance each other. CBC is known to work well with THC, enhancing its therapeutic effects while also acting as a buffer to mitigate its potency—i.e., the high it gives.
CBC has also been found to positively affect neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, which are primary functions of brain development and health. CBC also has anti-inflammatory properties that work without activating our ECS. Additionally, it has the potential to stimulate bone growth, inhibit tumor growth, and has antibiotic and antifungal properties.
CBC is incredibly unique in that it functions without the ECS while enhancing the cannabinoids that do interact with the ECS.
Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is a small but mighty cannabinoid. It's only found in some cannabis strains, and while it has psychoactive properties, they're minimal compared to THC. Much like CBN, you would have to consume a substantial quantity of THCV to get high.
THCV is unique in that, unlike THC, it binds with both our CB1 and CB2 receptors. Its effects on us include the promotion of bone growth, appetite suppression, stress, and anxiety relief.
Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8-THC) is the aforementioned and less psychoactive cannabinoid cousin of THC. Delta-8-THC is currently marketed to appeal to those who experience paranoia when using THC.
This cannabinoid has also been found to kill cancer cells, reduce tumor size, stimulate appetite, and prevent vomiting. It's especially beneficial to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Cannabidivarin (CBDV) is another non-psychoactive cannabinoid revered for its contribution to the ensemble effect. Much like THCV, CBDV only appears in very small quantities. The highest quantities of CBDV have been found in certain Himalayan Indica strains.
CBDV is known to heighten the anti-seizure effects of CBD, and it contributes to suppressing nausea and vomiting.
THCA & CBDA
tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) are the acidic precursors to their active forms: THC and CBD. Both cannabinoids exist minimally in raw form, before and after they convert into THC and CBD.
In raw form, THCA works effectively as an anti-inflammatory and nausea suppression. CBDA has shown promising potential for cancer treatment, and both cannabinoids are infinitely more powerful than their converted counterparts.
How Are Cannabinoids Synthesized?
One important to understand as we deep dive into the different cannabinoids is that they all begin as an acid. For example, CBG began as CBGA, and THCV began as THCVA, and so on. The cannabinoids that we know and love don't exist without activation, aka, decarboxylation—which is just a fancy term for chemical synthesis.
Decarboxylation is the chemical reaction that causes a separation in a certain carbon atom from a carbon chain. More specifically, it's the release of carboxylic acids—i.e., the precursor acids of the various cannabinoids. In plant terms, this is also known as biosynthesis, as it's a natural biochemical reaction.
To put things more simply, decarboxylation is caused by exposure to heat. The heat is essentially caused by prolonged exposure to UV light, which activated our cannabinoids giving each cannabis strain its specific characteristics.
As for what triggers the mother cannabinoid to convert into either THC, CBD, or other cannabinoids, specifically still has scientists scratching their heads. Of course, it's relative to the subspecies and variety of each cannabis plant; however, we have yet to understand cannabinoid conversion triggers at an atomic level.
How Do Cannabinoids Work?
How do cannabinoids perform the many miracles they do? Simply by binding with the receptors throughout our brains and bodies. More specifically, our CB1 and CB2 receptors.
The CB1 receptors exist in the brain, while the CB2 receptors exist throughout our body and immune system. Cannabinoids perform like a lock and key. When we consume THC or CBD—or both—they bind and activate our receptors. Our receptors contain metabolic enzymes that help break down the cannabinoids enabling their effects.
From there, the cannabinoids go to work, as would our body's natural endocannabinoids.
THC primarily binds with our CB1 receptors, while CBD primarily binds with our CB2 receptors. Both THC and CBD will bind with the opposite receptors but at a very minimum length. Additionally, both THC and CBD (more so CBD) are known to affect our neurotransmitters by changing the shape of our receptors to mitigate which signals are sent out and which are inhibited.
For example, CBD may act as a reuptake inhibitor, blocking certain enzymes from destroying the release of excess dopamine or serotonin—hence its ability to help us relax or stabilize our moods.
Get to Know Your Cannabinoids
We have yet to learn more about the cannabis plant and all of its chemical compounds and cannabinoids. Of course, it's only a matter of time before new cannabis strains made for specific treatments are developed. Overall, it's a fascinating time for scientists, cannabis lovers, and growers alike.
We love cannabis too—and other plants.
That's why we've created an automated grow box to help home growers achieve a successful harvest with minimal time and effort. Growbox focuses on automating and deep water culture to streamline your growing process. With our automated grow box, you can grow up to three ounces in just four months. To learn more about Grobo, reach out to us today.