The Cannabis plant produces hundreds of different cannabinoids and over four hundred complex-compounds that make up the plant anatomy.
The most well known among these compounds are Cannabidiol (CBD), a potent medicinal compound and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient of the plant. While CBD and THC are the most well-known cannabinoids, there are many other minor cannabinoids that are thought to offer health benefits. Some of these are cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabichromene (CBC).
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are a broad class of chemical compounds named for those found in a cannabis plant and stored within the plant’s trichomes. Cannabinoids can be further classified by where they are found, such as in plants and animals. If the cannabinoids are found in animals, then they are known as endocannabinoids, while phytocannabinoids are found in plants.
How Do Cannabinoids Work?
The endocannabinoid system is a system in the human body consisting of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoids that are produced naturally by the human body are called endocannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system influences physiological processes like appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory. Within this system, cannabinoids mediate communication between various cells and systems in the human body through the interaction with the cannabinoid receptors. This activation of cannabinoid receptors triggers various pharmacological effects.
Research has revealed that brain cells and nerve cells have two types of cannabinoid receptors, or special molecules that grab cannabinoids. When a cannabinoid meets a receptor, it can cause an effect to occur within the cell, similar to the way a locked door will not open until a specific cannabinoid key is inserted and turned in the lock – the receptor.
One way cannabinoids work is by attaching to specific receptors, called endocannabinoid receptors, which are found all over the human body. Currently, two primary endocannabinoid receptors are known – CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors work mainly on the brain and are predominantly located in the central and peripheral nervous systems, while CB2 receptors work mainly on the body and are found mostly in the immune system. When a particular cannabinoid attaches to these specific receptors, it triggers a series of changes in the way cells send signals to other cells throughout the body.
While the functions of these cannabinoids within the body are wide-ranging, it is believed that their primary function is to promote homeostasis or balance. Cannabinoid compounds act on cannabinoid receptors as a regulatory network tasked with keeping body functions in balance. Although cannabinoids are known to interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, much more is yet to be discovered about these amazing molecules. They likely operate through many different pathways in the body, beyond these receptors, making their study much more complex than originally thought.
Phytocannabinoids are similar in molecular and electronic structure to the endocannabinoids Researchers believe this similarity is the reason phytocannabinoids can interact with the endocannabinoid system and produce the physiological effects.
Type of Cannabinoids
While researchers have indicated there are over 100 identified cannabinoids. They are separated into subclasses:
Cannabinoids are a diverse set of chemical compounds that bind to special receptors in the human body that make up what is known as the endocannabinoid system. As these receptors are found throughout the body, cannabinoids have the potential to affect almost every activity of life. Cannabinoids are divided into two main categories, the phytocannabinoids found in plants and endocannabinoids found in animals. Of those found in cannabis plants, THC and CBD are the most well known and documented, however, the therapeutic potential of the minor cannabinoids is of great interest.
This is the third article from the series: Anatomy of the Cannabis Plant, you can read the previous articles of this series in the links below: