Chemistry of cannabis
The cannabis plant supplies chemicals that closely resemble our own bodies’ chemicals. Its consumption does not introduce foreign or toxic elements into the body. This is why it is so safe to use and why no one has ever died from using it.
Some useful terms upfront: this portion is more technical in nature.
Canabinoids ~ refers collectively to a unique variety of chemicals both found in nature (animal and plant) and manufactured synthetically. Phytocanabinoids is one way of referring to the active chemicals in the cannabis plant. Endocanabinoids refers to cannabinoids found naturally within the host (usually referring to a human); these are the ones made by our own bodies. Exogenouscannabinoids refer to cannabinoids that we take into our body from a foreign source (usually the cannabis plant or a synthetic drug).
The cannabis plant contains over 80 unique phytochemicals (plant chemicals). This complexity of chemistry is at the heart of the plant’s benefits and the contradictory confusions surrounding it. The plant comes in three varieties (cultivars): Cannabis; sativa, indica, and ruderalis. The sativa strain (tropical) is known for being light, energizing, mentally and creatively stimulating. Indica is known for being calming, sedating and more physically oriented. Ruderalis is industrial hemp used in textiles but found to have a higher % of canabidial (CBD) which is starting to be extracted in seclusion of other cannabinoids. Most commercial varieties are now hybrids typically ranging from 30-70% sativa or indica. For example; A hybrid that is 60% indica and 40% sativa is referred to as an indica dominant hybrid.
Many of the known cannabinoids have been studied, and various clinical properties are being recognized and validated with ongoing research. Some examples are THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), CBC (cannabichromene), CBD (cannabidiol), CBG (cannabigerol), CBN (cannabinol). In addition to the cannabinoids, the cannabis plant derives medicinal value from other phytochemicals such as terpenoids and flavonoids. Most strains have been THC dominant (high THC chemotype), with most variation coming from relative terpenoid content, but this is changing with breeding. Here are some of the known effects of cannabinoids (click on chart): Here is an article that demystifies cannabidiol (CBD)
The Endocannabinoid System:
“Many of the neural and behavioral effects of exogenously administered cannabinoids can be traced directly to activation of the ‘endocannabinoid’ (ECB) system a set of neurochemicals and cognate receptors densely expressed throughout the brain“. The human body has two cell receptor systems with an affinity for cannabis. The CB1 & CB2 receptors are the know places where phytochemicals in cannabis interact with the human body. CB1 is very reactive (50%) and is responsible for most effects. CB1 is present extensively in the brain (5% of brain protein), but appears to a lesser degree in the nerves, adipose (fat), liver, muscles, gut, pancreas and immune cells. CB1 is present in the cerebral cortex, hypothalamus, amygdala, basal ganglia, cerebellum, brain stem and spinal cord. ~ Such a wide distribution helps explain its varied affects: it’s everywhere! CB2 primarily works in the immune system and to a smaller degree in the brain. Activation of CB2 receptors is non-psychoactive (you don’t get high from stimulating it). CB1 was first discovered only recently (in 1988) and has had profound impact on the understanding of mammalian physiology, brain signaling and function.
CB1 & CB2 have a complex relationship with gut and brain functioning that is far from fully understood, but is actively being investigated in labs all over the world. They act like two-way neurotransmitters (pre & postsynaptic) and are involved in a host of bodily functions, including coordinated motor control and integration of the senses, the extinction of conditioned responses and many others.
Taking exogenous cannabinoids stimulates these receptor sites which induces the effects that humans feel and experience. Drugs are being developed to mimic the effects of cannabinoids with less variation and more specificity than from the plant. Cannabis breeders, however, are aiming to do this as well. The race is on.
Here is an article from the NIH on The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy
Our own medicine:
The human body produces two endocannabinoids (natural cannabis like chemicals) on its own. They are anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). The body produces these on demand, primarily in the nerve presynaptic zones. Recognizing and understanding disturbances in our endocannabinoid system is an emerging specialty field in pathology. Manipulating our internal cannabinoids is a hot area of scientific inquiry. Diseases suspected of having an endocanabinoid disruption component include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, fibromyalgia, anxiety and some forms of migraine headache. New information is emerging all the time. This article explores this more.