At first glance, cannabinoids might seem like something strange. But, as you’ll discover, this broad family of compounds is not only quite simple, it’s chock full of possibilities. To learn more, keep reading.
What exactly are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are organic compounds found in a number of plants. However, the highest concentration is found in hemp and marijuana varieties. Both are members of the Cannabis sativa species, but it is hemp that has a large amount of cannabinoids and, furthermore, its cultivation is legal.
In hemp, cannabinoids play a supporting role, working in the background to attract pollinators, deter predatory insects from attacking, and help the plant adapt to its environment. But this is not the only thing they can do. What makes cannabinoids unique is what happens when we consume them.
The only problem, however, is that isolating and understanding cannabinoids has been much more complicated than it seems.
When were cannabinoids discovered?
If you search for information on cannabinoids, you will see that cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) appear in most of the results. But they weren’t the first cannabinoids to be discovered. In fact, it took scientists over twenty years to fully identify CBD and THC since cannabinoids were first discovered.
Actually, the award for the first cannabinoid to be discovered goes to cannabinol (CBN), by British chemist Robert S. Cahn. Two years later, an American chemist discovered CBD, but it took almost two decades to fully identify it. THC later joined the pack, thanks to the pioneering work of Raphael Mechoulam.
Dr. Mechoulam continues to be the forerunner of cannabinoid science; without his work, we would not have the CBD oils, supplements, and cosmetics we consume today. However, what researchers did not know at the time is that CBN, CBD and THC belong to a much larger family.
What cannabinoids are in hemp?
We’ve thrown around a lot of acronyms (CBN, CBD and THC), so it takes a small step back. To do this, we must start with how the cannabinoid family works, since not all cannabinoids exist at the same time or in the same proportions.
Rather, cannabinoid development is more like a family tree, with members of this influential family appearing only under certain conditions. But as happens in all important families, a head of the family is needed. Cannabigerol acid (CBGA) is the precursor molecule of the main cannabinoids; without it, THC, CBD, CBC and others would not exist.
When hemp is still a seedling, CBGA reacts with enzymes to create the first major branches of the cannabinoid family tree (CBCA, THCA, CBDA) before heat and exposure to the atmosphere give rise to more branches. It is in these last phases that THC and CBD appear.
We’ve simplified the process a bit, but as you can see, a lot of changes take place as hemp plants develop. And according to the researchers, it is during these changes that up to 100 different cannabinoids are created.
How do cannabinoids work?
We know how and why cannabinoids exist, but now comes the most important question; how do they affect people? The fascination with cannabinoids stems from the unique interaction they have with a vast network of receptors within all of us.
There are lots of receptors in our brain, skin, digestive organs, immune system, and nervous system. Its main function is to monitor the different parts of our body and make sure they are working as intended.
If they don’t, or if a system is under stress (for example, our immune system when we have a cold), these receptors can trigger subtle changes that help the body return to a state of balance.
This process occurs continuously, as our body constantly strives to achieve a balanced and healthy state. However, cannabinoids provide a secondary action, binding to or influencing receptors to produce their own changes in mind and body.
How cannabinoids affect the body
Providing a definitive assessment of how cannabinoids affect the body is challenging, not because there are no examples, but because there are so many possible outcomes!
First, the receptors that we mentioned earlier, which are found throughout the body, control and regulate functions such as digestion, immune function, and motor control. And, due to the large number of processes that occur, researchers still do not fully understand the true extent of the interaction between cannabinoids and receptors.
Second, you also have to consider how these receptors and cannabinoids interact. Not all cannabinoids interact with all receptors. Rather, the receivers operate using a “lock and key” principle. Cannabinoids must have a chemical structure that matches the “lock” of a receptor in order for the two to interact.
This interaction is the reason why each cannabinoid produces a slightly different effect when consumed. No two cannabinoids are exactly the same, which means that the results vary too.
How cannabinoids affect the brain
The effect of cannabinoids on our mind is just as varied. There are many receptors in the brain that affect various processes including:
Once again, the same lock and key principle applies. In fact, this internal mechanism is the reason why THC produces psychotropic side effects and CBD does not. THC binds to receptors in parts of the brain related to mood and appetite, while CBD does not.
The complexity of the human mind is also an important factor. Since each person is unique at the genetic level, no receptor network is the same, and the particular results and interactions will be specific to each individual.
Are cannabinoids legal?
The legal status of cannabinoids is a complicated topic because it depends on the cannabinoid we are talking about.
For example, CBD is legal in most of the world as long as it comes from hemp and contains no more than 0.3% THC (in the US) and 0.2% THC (in Europe). On the other hand, THC (unless it falls below those thresholds) is still prohibited, regardless of where it comes from.
The rest of the cannabinoids fall into a maze of legislation. But since there is still a lot to learn about smaller compounds like CBG, CBC, and CBN, regulation is much more fluid. In general, THC is the only one that is strictly controlled, due to its psychotropic side effects.
We’ve covered a lot of ground, so let’s recap.
Cannabinoids are organic compounds found in Cannabis sativa. Not only are there many of them, but each one can interact with receptors throughout the human body.
These receptors exist to help maintain a healthy and balanced state by regulating functions such as mood, appetite, digestion, and immune response. Cannabinoids can cause a wide range of changes by interacting with these receptors, but we still have a lot to learn about it.
Researchers are working hard to understand how to exploit the relationship between receptors and cannabinoids to promote a state of well-being. And at the forefront of that research is CBD, a cannabinoid with no psychotropic effects.
If you have questions about cannabinoids, you can trust that Cibdol will have the answer in our CBD Encyclopedia. Or, if you’re ready to experience the full range of cannabinoids with market-leading CBD oils, capsules, supplements and cosmetics, go ahead and visit the Cibdol store.