What are cannabinoids, and how do they affect the human body? We’ve spent the past few weeks getting acquainted with the basics of cannabis — the different plant types, the difference between marijuana and hemp, the many uses of hemp, among other topics.
But any educational journey comes to cannabinoids, the unique chemical compounds that give cannabis both its medical qualities and its mind-altering qualities. THC is a cannabinoid, and so is CBD, and before we can begin to explore those two concepts, let’s first take a broader view of cannabinoids themselves.
So, what are cannabinoids? There are more than four hundred compounds in cannabis that are common to all plants — like chlorophyll, terpenoids, and flavonoids — but cannabinoids are unique chemical compounds found only in cannabis. There are at least sixty-five known cannabinoids, with some estimates as high as eighty-five.
These chemical compounds can have a variety of different effects on our bodies. Throughout the human body, cells are known to have cannabinoid receptor sites (“docking” or “transmission” sites that use cannabinoids to send signals). The discovery of these cannabinoid receptors back in the 1980s triggered a larger wave of discovery that changed basic understandings about cannabis and the means by which it affected people. Now, we know how cannabinoids interact with specific cell receptors. (We also know that these receptors are found throughout the animal kingdom, facilitating research into the medical function of cannabinoids like THC and CBD.)
There are two primary cannabinoid receptors: CB-1 and CB-2 (although some researchers think there may be even more, no medical evidence supports this claim as yet). CB-1 receptors are found mostly on cells in the brain and the central nervous system, while CB-2 receptors are found mainly on cells in the enteric nervous system, the large sub-network of our nervous systems that governs our gastrointestinal system. (The latter is more important than it might sound: Scientific American called it the body’s “second brain.”)
With a direct line to these two critical parts of the body’s nervous system, cannabinoids have a definite power over human processes like emotion and reaction to pain — a power which isn’t yet fully understood.
Cannabinoids have been demonstrated to have a variety of pharmacological actions in the body, and can cross the blood-brain barrier. They’re also thought to have antioxidant and neuroprotective effects.
There are some big medical implications here. Neuroprotection refers to the body’s ability to protect itself against central nervous system injury or degeneration, which is associated with chronic neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. The National Institutes of Health finds these possibilities important enough to hold a patent filed in 1999 entitled “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants."
The abstract for that patent reads:
“Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia."
We hope this sheds some light on the world of cannabinoids and how they effect the human body. Stay tuned for our next post where we will share more information about CBD, Cannabis and Cannibinoids.
Wishing you all the best,