Cannabinoids: The Building Blocks of Cannabis

By ebbu Staff

Cannabis researchers working to take the mystery out of cannabis as medicine are digging deeper into the chemical structure of this complex plant, discovering more about the true source of its seemingly magical medical properties. Along the way, they have uncovered an interesting trick—the human body is designed to interact with cannabis, in the form of compounds in the plant known as cannabinoids.

Cannabis researchers have identified two primary cannabinoid receptors: cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), predominantly present in the nervous system, particularly the brain and other organs including the adrenal gland, heart, lung, prostate, uterus and ovaries; and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2), predominantly found in the immune system.

When cannabis is ingested, your endocannabinoid system interacts naturally with various cannabinoid compounds. Cannabis researchers have been studying the benefits of these interactions as alternative treatments for a variety of human illnesses and conditions, from reproductive health and multiple sclerosis to mental health disorders such as schizophrenia.

The National Cancer Institute reports that cannabinoids can treat the side effects of cancer therapy, and that cannabis has been shown to kill cancer cells in laboratory tests.

Two primary cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—discovered by cannabis researchers in 1963 and 1964 respectively—are familiar to most cannabis consumers. THC is the intoxicating cannabinoid of the cannabis plant, used to increase appetite, decrease pain, reduce inflammation and aid in muscle control problems. CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, also works to decrease pain and inflammation and has been found to be an effective treatment for epileptic seizures.

But those two cannabinoid compounds represent just the tip of the iceberg. Researchers have so far discovered over 100 different cannabinoid compounds from the cannabis plant that can interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system.

A molecule of cannabichromene (CBC) (Wikimedia Commons)

A molecule of cannabichromene (CBC) (Wikimedia Commons)

Identified cannabinoids include cannabigerol (CBG), an antibiotic; cannabichromene (CBC), an anti-inflammatory; various subsets of THC, including THCV, an analgesic, and THCA, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid acid found in raw cannabis that can be used to treat epilepsy; cannabinol (CBN), a sedative and anticonvulsant; cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), an antibiotic; and cannabifuran (CBF), an antibiotic.

Many other identified cannabinoids, such as cannabitriol (CBT), cannabioxepane (CBX) and cannabinodivarin (CBDV), have been shown to affect the endocannabinoid receptors, and more clinical studies are underway by cannabis scientists, including ebbu’s own research team.

In fact, the National Institute of Health has spent nearly $500 million on research into cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system since 2015, with another $143 million projected for this year. Their clinical research is examining all classes of cannabinoids, including the molecules that change their concentration or activity, and how these compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system.

In the meantime, anecdotal reports by medical patients about the beneficial effects of cannabis, along with deeper and broader research by scientists, continue building evidence about the efficacy of cannabinoids working in the human body.

And one day, many years from now, we may know all the secrets of this amazing plant, including the ways in which the dozens of other cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system, both individually and in combination with each other, and how those interactions might benefit the humans the cannabis plant seems to naturally want to help.