Cannabis is getting plenty of attention across the globe for its therapeutic properties. Like many herbs, cannabis contains chemicals that have been studied for their positive influence on health in humans and animals. These compounds are called cannabinoids, and they play various roles in maintaining wellness.
It’s important to understand how the different cannabinoids function because they’re often present in varying proportions in marijuana as well as non-psychoactive CBD oil. Using multiple cannabinoids encourages an entourage effect. In other words, the beneficial chemicals in the plant influence each other and are mutually beneficial – they may be more effective when they’re used together.
However, CBD oil also has powerful health benefits even when it contains cannabidiol alone. Learning more about the different cannabinoids may help you decide whether to choose a full-spectrum cannabis oil or CBD isolate.
Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System: A Refresher
They’re plentiful in the resin that is produced by the plant’s trichomes. Trichomes are the sticky, shiny crystal-like structures that coat the buds and leaves of the cannabis plant. These appendages also produce the terpenes that give cannabis its distinctive flavor.
Trichomes produce different cannabinoids depending on the way the plant is grown. Distinct strains of the plant contain varying concentrations of cannabinoids. Some cannabinoids are inherent in fresh plants. Others are only activated when cannabis undergoes certain actions, such as being exposed to heat.
In 1988, researchers at the St. Louis University School of Medicine discovered receptors in the human brain that interact with chemicals in cannabis. They named them cannabinoid receptors.
Natural chemicals in the body that affect these receptors are called endocannabinoids. The compounds in cannabis that influence these receptors are called exogenous cannabinoids.
CB1 and CB2 receptors are located throughout the central nervous system. They have also been found in:
• Peripheral nerve terminals
• The eye
• The testis
• The spleen
• Blood vessels
• Hair follicles
• Sebaceous glands
The endocannabinoid system plays a role in pain processing, movement control, learning, memory, appetite and digestion. It regulates brain function, immunity and hormone balance.
In simpler terms, the endocannabinoid system does a lot for your health. Dysfunction in the system has been linked to a wide variety of ailments, including inflammatory diseases, problems with mood and chronic pain.
The extensive nature of the endocannabinoid receptors makes them promising targets for a wide range of therapies. However, researchers are unable to isolate and administer endocannabinoids in studies because the chemicals are unstable and metabolize rapidly.
They have been able to study the effects of exogenous cannabinoids on the endocannabinoid system, though. In doing so, they have discovered that many of the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant have beneficial health implications.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the primary cannabinoid that’s found in cannabis. It is more plentiful in marijuana than hemp. To create THC-rich strains of marijuana, the female plants must flower without being pollinated. Therefore, marijuana must be grown in a carefully controlled environment.
THC binds directly to the CB1 receptors. This is how it exerts psychoactive effects. THC is possibly the only cannabinoid in marijuana that intoxicates you.
It has many therapeutic benefits. THC is similar to anandamide, the first endocannabinoid that was ever discovered. Anandamide functions as a neurotransmitter and enhances communication in the regions of the brain that influence pleasure, coordination, movement, sensory perception, time awareness, memory and thinking. Increasing levels of anandamide makes people feel happy.
Consuming THC can also make people feel blissful. THC stimulates the release of dopamine, another mood-boosting neurotransmitter.
THC does much more than improve your mood, however. Many of THC’s beneficial effects were discovered through observational research that relied on anecdotal evidence from people who used marijuana to self-medicate. A 2004 review reports that there is clear evidence that THC can reduce nausea that is caused by chemotherapy, increase the appetite, relieve pain and improve symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Some other disorders that may be improved by THC include:
• Weight loss
• Nerve pain
• Bipolar disorder
• Addiction and drug withdrawal
• Autoimmune disease
• Blood pressure disorders
• Neurodegenerative diseases
Some people claim that some unpleasant side effects can make THC use problematic. The cannabinoid can impair judgment and perception, affect memory, cause anxiety and induce hallucinations.
Many of the other cannabinoids found in marijuana and hemp have similar therapeutic benefits to THC. In fact, some research is unable to pinpoint whether improvements to the ailments listed above come from THC or other chemicals in cannabis.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the second most abundant cannabinoid that’s found in marijuana and hemp. Marijuana tends to have more THC, and hemp usually contains more CBD. Although marijuana can be bred to contain high CBD-to-THC ratios, it may be easier to extract CBD from hemp if you don’t want THC in the resulting product.
Hemp contains negligible amounts of THC. You won’t get high even if you smoke a pound of it. You will get plenty of CBD in your system, however.
Like THC, CBD has many health benefits. Evidence shows that it can improve symptoms of the following conditions:
• Nerve problems
• Acute and chronic pain
• Skin problems
• Digestive issues
• Metabolic disorders
• Mental health disorders
• Sleep disturbances
• Seizure disorders
Many pharmaceutical agents mask symptoms of diseases but don’t address the root of the problem. CBD may improve health at the source.
It can help re-wire the brain, enhancing neurogenesis and protecting brain cells from damage. It also has antioxidant effects, which further safeguard your cells against harm. CBD also reduces inflammation, which is the underlying cause of many chronic diseases.
CBD has some surprising benefits. One study found that it enhances the healing of bone fractures. It’s also the only cannabinoid with antipsychotic properties. Another interesting advantage of CBD is its ability to reduce intestinal motility when the digestive tract is stimulated by inflammation.
Raw cannabis contains tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, or THCA. This acid has many therapeutic effects, but it is not psychoactive. It is converted into THC through a process called decarboxylation. This happens when a THCA-rich cannabis plant is heated or exposed to light.
THCA turns into THC when the plant is smoked, cooked or warmed by sunlight. A plant or extract that contains THCA and sits at room temperature for a long period of time can develop more THC through the decarboxylation process.
Much of the research into cannabis and epilepsy shows that THCA can reduce the frequency of seizures. THCA may also:
These qualities make THCA a promising compound for treating a wide variety of diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, dementia, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and auto-immune conditions.
Cannabidiolic acid, or CBDA, is also more plentiful than CBD in unheated cannabis. Scientists first discovered CBDA in 1955. Ninety-five percent of CBD exists as CBDA in fresh plants.
CBD may be more potent than CBDA for improving the symptoms of certain illnesses, such as cancer. Therefore, more research has been done on CBD than CBDA. However, both cannabinoids have similar properties.
Like CBD, CBDA doesn’t bind directly to cannabinoid receptors. It exerts its functions by influencing other neurotransmitters and receptors, which do work with the endocannabinoid system.
Although research on CBDA is scant, the cannabinoid has the potential to:
The dosage of CBDA that’s necessary to produce effects may be far lower than that of CBD. Therefore, including it in a full-spectrum hemp oil extract may let you use less of the product to reap the benefits.
Cannabigerol, or CBG, is present in most cannabis in concentrations of less than 1 percent. It is the parent compound of THC and CBD. CBG starts out as cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA. As the plant matures, enzymes within it break down CBGA into one of the following acids:
• Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, or THCA
• Cannabidiolic acid, or CBDA
• Cannabichromenic acid, or CBCA
When these acids are exposed to heat or UV light, they break down into the cannabinoids with which we are most familiar: THC and CBD. This usually happens about six or eight weeks after the plant has blossomed. After it occurs, only trace amounts of CBG remain in the plant.
Breeding plants with lower THC and CBD levels can leave them with higher quantities of CBG. CBG may be useful for similar purposes as CBD. It is not psychotropic, and it has been studied for its positive effects on:
Cannabinol, or CBN, is produced as THC degrades. It is not abundant in fresh plants. Over time, THC oxidizes, changing into CBN. This can happen when cannabis flowers have been exposed to oxygen for a long period of time while they’re in storage. Heating the plant hastens the oxidation process.
When it’s administered alone CBN doesn’t have profound effects. However, a small study found that CBN can attenuate certain THC effects and make people feel more dizzy and drowsy than they would when using THC alone.
CBN is an effective anticonvulsant. Nabilone, a man-made drug that is used to treat nausea and vomiting in cancer patients, is manufactured from a derivative of CBN. Other medical manufacturers are looking into CBN for its sedative, anti-inflammatory and anticonvulsant effects. CBN may be partially responsible for the lethargy that results from smoking marijuana.
Cannabichromene, or CBC, doesn’t bind to CB1 receptors. Therefore, it doesn’t have psychoactive effects. Instead, it works on the vanilloid receptor 1 and ankyrin type-1 receptor. These receptors are present in the body’s pain pathways. When they’re activated by CBC, the levels of certain endocannabinoids, such as anandamide, increase.
We have discussed anandamide’s role in mood enhancement. It may also be responsible for the runner’s high that is associated with endurance exercise. Anandamide increases euphoria, reduces anxiety and diminishes an individual’s ability to feel pain.
CBC’s influence on anandamide may also make it a powerful cancer fighter. Anandamide has been shown to inhibit the proliferation of highly invasive breast cancer tumors.
This cannabinoid also improves the viability of neural stem progenitor cells, which are vital for cognitive functioning.
CBC may be a useful therapeutic agent for:
Tetrahydrocannabivarin, or THCV, is similar to THC. Although many internet resources claim that this cannabinoid exerts psychotropic effects, some scientists say that THCV is not psychoactive.
Like THC, THCV has a high affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, it acts on these receptors differently than CBD and THC do. Therefore, it’s probably most effective when it’s used in conjunction with other cannabinoids.
THCV is only present in certain strains of cannabis. Many of these strains are known as “skinny pot” because they don’t give people the munchies. In addition to suppressing the appetite, THCV has been found to improve the function of pancreatic beta cells. These cells make insulin, which helps control blood sugar levels. Therefore, THCV may be beneficial for people with diabetes or metabolic disorders.
Cannabidivarin, or CBDV, is not psychoactive. It has been demonstrated to have anti-seizure activity, which makes it a promising agent for epilepsy treatment. It works by inhibiting the activity of certain pathways that are involved in neuronal hyperexcitability. It is also being studied for its effects on fragile X syndrome, autism spectrum disordersand Rett syndrome.
CBDV may also be a powerful bone healing agent. It has been shown to be more effective than CBG in stimulating the recruitment of mesenchymal stem cells, which are important for bone formation and healing.
CBD Isolate vs. Full-Spectrum CBD Oil
A pure CBD product that has isolated cannabidiol from the other cannabinoids may be preferable for some consumers. Compared with the other cannabinoids, CBD may have the widest range of benefits.
One interesting finding is that increasing the dosage of individual cannabinoids doesn’t always improve their effectiveness. Low to moderate doses of pure CBD have been shown to work better than larger doses. This bell-shaped curve of effects can be reshaped by using multiple cannabinoids together.
As long as it doesn’t contain THC, a full-spectrum oil won’t make you high. Neither will CBD isolate.
Why would you want to use pure CBD as opposed to a full-spectrum oil? Some consumers prefer to mix their own remedies using CBD oil. CBD isolate may be easier to measure and combine with smoothies, lotions and other ingredients. Because everyone reacts to cannabinoids differently, you might want to experiment with both versions to determine which one is most effective for you.