Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds that are found in the human body and in cannabis plants. While THC is the most well-known, there are over 100 different cannabinoids, and science is still working to understand what they all do.
The five most common cannabinoids are: THC, CBD, CBN, CBC, and CBG. These chemicals react with the the brain’s cannabinoid receptors and evidence suggests that cannabinoids may play a role in treating cancer, nausea and vomiting, chronic pain, anxiety, PTSD, epilepsy, and more.
The Endocannabinoid System
The reason these cannabinoids produce such therapeutic outcomes in cannabis consumers is because of the way they interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), as well as with one another. The ECS is comprised of cannabinoids naturally occurring in our bodies. When we consume cannabis, the cannabinoids in the plant pair with our body’s receptors.
Cannabinoids are incredibly therapeutic compounds that, when ingested together through a cannabis product, work in a synergistic process referred to as the entourage effect. According to a 2011 study, this effect has the potential to treat depression, anxiety, addiction, pain, inflammation, epilepsy, fungal infections, bacterial infections, and cancer.
THC is the most widely recognized of the cannabinoids, and that’s for a very good reason. THC is the cannabinoid primarily responsible for pot’s psychoactive effects—it’s also the most prevalent cannabinoid found in most cannabis strains. While THC is found outside of the body, it is the equivalence of anandamide and 2-AG, two endocannabinoids found inside the body. THC’s attributes affect a person’s perception of time, pleasure, and senses. It also alters memory, thinking, concentration, and coordination.
Large amounts of THC can cause the sensations of euphoria, anxiety or paranoia, dry mouth, and increased appetite. While some of these symptoms are always inconvenient, others are sought after. For example, most pot consumers enjoy the sense of elation THC produces. Medicinal users may turn to weed to reduce nausea and vomiting or simply to trigger a desire to eat. This can be particularly helpful for chemotherapy and anorexic patients.
THC’s psychoactive effect also makes it the most controversial cannabinoid. In states with limited medical cannabis laws, high THC products are not allowed. Additionally, research suggests that THC exposure to developing brains (in the unborn and in growing children) could have adverse effects on cognitive function, making THC a complicated choice for pediatric medical patients with severe illnesses.
CBD is highly regarded for its medicinal properties. Because it is non-psychoactive, CBD consumption is far less controversial than THC consumption. However, since most cannabis strains are bred for their recreational potency, it can be difficult to find high CBD, low THC products.
CBD has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties which make it a viable therapeutic option for those fighting gastrointestinal disorders, conditions caused and exacerbated by abnormal inflammation. This attribute is also what seems to give it medical efficacy.
A 2011 study found that CBD has the potential to treat schizophrenia just as well as, if not slightly better than, conventional pharmaceutical therapies. Research also suggests that CBD’s mood-elevating properties are worth investigating as potential treatments for anxiety, addiction, and depression.
CBN has recently gained popularity among researchers. The cannabinoid is the strongest sedative of all of the cannabinoids which makes it an interesting subject of study for sleep-aid research. It has also demonstrated antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsive, and analgesic effects. CBN may also be an appetite and bone stimulant. Finally, topical applications of CBN have been shown to mitigate the progression of glaucoma.
Although research on this non-psychoactive cannabinoid is severely lacking, concentrations of CBC in cannabis plants are second only to THC. CBC may have medical efficacy in dermatology as an acne treatment. A 2016 study found that CBC plays a significant role in reducing the effects of one of the leading acne-inducing acids. In addition to skin care, early research into CBC suggests that the cannabinoid may be implicated in pain relief, neurogenesis, mood elevation, cell death of cancer cells, and bone growth.
CBG is an extremely important cannabinoid because it is the building block for many of cannabis’ cannabinoids, including THC and CBD—compounds that begin as CBG. Since the primary function of CBG seems to be synthesizing derivative cannabinoids, there is a very low concentration of CBG in mature cannabis plants.