Phytocannabinoids: Nature’s Gift to Our eCS
Welcome back to Equinoxx’s Cannabis Education Series, where today, I’m giving the essential run-down on prominent cannabinoids we experience with medicinal cannabis. If your health journey has led you here, I could bet you’ve heard of THC and CBD, popular and prevalent cannabinoids that patients use every day to find balance, peace, and harmony. I’m here to tell you there’s SO MUCH MORE to explore about cannabis than just THC or CBD; it is chock-full of compounds that, especially together, create an array of beneficial effects.
While science has identified hundreds of phytocannabinoids within cannabis—and though we live in a highly technological era—very few isolated compounds have been the subject of scientific research, due to the widespread illegality of the plant. What we do know is the cannabinoids researched so far already give us a clear view into the power of the cannabis plant. Let’s get into it!
The Mother of All Cannabinoids, CBG
Before diving into the compounds you’re surely familiar with by now, THC and CBD, we must take a moment to appreciate and understand the one who started it all, Cannabigerol (CBG).
Cannabinoids are structural isomers, meaning they have the same molecular formula, but different structures. In other words, they’re using the same ingredients, but are baking different cakes. Each molecule contains the same number of Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen atoms, but uses them differently, resulting in different physiological and mental effects to the human body.
This all stems from the innate makeup of CBG; cannabinoids such as THC and CBD form during the maturing and breaking down of the original CBG. Unfortunately, because it’s difficult to isolate, there’s not too much research available for its acute effects. However, we do know CBG interacts directly with our CB1 and CB2 receptors, and it’s been found to aid in appetite loss, bacterial infections, cancer, glaucoma, central nervous system disorders, and more.
We Know Her Well: CBD
Of all the cannabinoids science has researched thus far, we know the most about CBD. Unlike other cannabinoids, Cannabidiol doesn’t bind directly to our CB1 and CB2 receptors. Rather, it binds to other receptors in our body, which in turn speak to our cannabinoid receptors. It’s neuroprotective and arguably mildly euphoric, but it’s not psychoactive like its popular counterpart, THC.
In fact, when taken in conjunction (dosed at the same time), CBD can counterbalance the psychoactive effects of THC. If you’re looking for the heady euphoria of THC, this may be a combo you want to avoid. However, for the many CBD patients who need a stronger physical effect—but who want to avoid the mental effect—this combo can be very powerful. I’ll talk more on the synergistic effect of multiple cannabinoids working as one on a later post, but for now, it’s important to note that as an isolate, CBD offers positive effects on many disorders.
CBD has proven effective at providing better sleep, deeper relaxation, and relief from anxiety, depression, and nausea. You’re likely familiar with its effective treatment of epilepsy, but its potential to treat Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, RA, and other inflammatory diseases should not be overlooked. Functionally, CBD is neuroprotective, meaning it slows and prevents diseases of the brain. And while it’s considered as the opposite to THC in euphoric effect, patients often report feeling an overall sense of well-being and bliss with CBD, which is euphoric in its own right.
Before THC, There's THC-A
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is the non-psychoactive, monocarboxylic precursor to our beloved THC. Fresh cannabis—or any form of cannabis that’s yet to be processed, cooked, or smoked—does NOT contain THC; it contains THC-A. Unlike THC, it does not produce the heady euphoria you get from “weed;” however, it carries more medicinal benefits for patients seeking long-term, body-wide healing.
You’ll typically find THC-A in freshly juiced cannabis, cold-pressed tinctures, or in eating fresh cannabis leaves. As with all cannabinoid precursors (e.g. CBD-A), it offers protection from neurological disorders, cancers, and diseases over an extended period of time. Like a vitamin, or a suit of armor, ready to protect before you even know you need protecting.
Unfortunately, at this time, it’s simply easier and more economical to use CBD or THC for medicating with cannabis. Fresh and unadulterated leaves—for eating or for juicing—are almost impossible to come by unless you’re growing your own, in which case, it could be difficult to grow enough to sustain a regular diet. However, if you can source cannabis leaves and stems for this purpose, it’s a great, non-psychoactive, supplement to boost your overall health and bring balance to your physiological systems.
The "It Girl," THC
Well, we really wouldn’t be here today (and by here, I mean the cannabis industry and/or this blog) if it weren’t for the one, the only… Tetrahydrocannabinol. Though it all starts with a healthy dose of THC-A, that cannabinoid is ready and willing to drop a carbon atom and give us the heady euphoria that made “weed,” “ganja,” and “pot” the substance we recognize today.
When we light a joint, heat up our vapes, or bake a batch of special brownies, we participate in decarboxylation. Simply put, this is the physical removal of a carbon atom; THC-A transforms into THC, a process that triggers the psychoactive “powers” of cannabis. When THC is smoked, your liver turns about half of what’s taken into 11-Hydroxy-THC, the source of weed’s heady, psychoactive effects.
More than just psychoactive effects, THC has shown seemingly endless benefits for the mind, body, and soul. It’s a muscle relaxer, an appetite stimulator, pain reliever, and antidepressant. It may surprise you to know it’s also a bronchodilator (it opens your airways), and it has hypotensive properties. Epilepsy, chronic inflammation, and cancer are other disorders we add to this list as well. As we talked on at length in the last article, cannabinoids seek homeostasis; they find an imbalance and level the playing field, so to speak. And while all cannabinoids play their part in helping us find equilibrium, THC seems to drive these benefits to their max capacity. Relief from pain, epilepsy, depression, anxiety, and more is typically enhanced when THC is added to the mix.
Your Nighttime Cannabinoid
Following THC’s life cycle, we arrive at CBN, which I personally like to characterize as “Aged Like a Fine Wine.” Cannabinol results from the degradation of the cannabinoid THC, and you may know it from cannabis products meant for better sleep. Under too high a temperature or with too much oxidation, the compound THC begins to break down; THC decreases, CBN increases.
Now, the main reason we have to talk about CBN is that it’s the likely source for so many mis-truths surrounding cannabis. The age-old fallacy that all cannabis makes you “tired, sleepy, stupid” seems to stem primarily from the large presence of CBN in strains we all got before cannabis was regulated. You know, your run-of-the-mill “cartel brick weed.” Back in the day, cannabis was often stored and cured improperly, exposing the product to conditions beneficial to the breakdown of THC. CBN content was higher because of this, resulting in the intergalactic couch-lock we all witnessed in the Just Say No commercials growing up. These days, you’re more likely to experience these effects with CBN-specific products, as it’s not as potent or commonplace in your everyday strain.
So yes, it is completely true that CBN causes drowsiness; and yes, it gives you the munchies, too. This makes CBN a great remedy for those suffering with insomnia or appetite loss. It’s also effective at easing pain, spasms, anxiety, and symptoms of PTSD. Moreover, it’s been shown to delay symptoms of ALS and the spread of drug-resistant pathogens, such as MRSA.
This is just the start of what will one day be an entire dictionary of cannabinoids. As science is able to isolate more compounds, researchers will continue to delve into the many ways cannabis helps bring our systems to balance. With the knowledge we do have, however, you can begin making more informed decisions at your local dispensary, as it pertains to your unique biology and health plan.
Did we miss your favorite cannabinoid? Has a cannabis question been taking up too much space in your head? Reach out to us! I’m going deep into the world of terpenes and their effects, as well as the prowess of the Entourage Effect, in Part Three of this Cannabis Education Series. For now, stay in touch, and drop us a line! You can stay tuned for the next part in this series, learn more about the zodiac’s relationship to cannabis, or start a chat with us over on Instagram. Research is still young and growing, so the discussion is always on, and we want to hear what you know as well!