Cannabis would be nothing without cannabinoids, the tiny organic compounds that make the plant what it is. And there are many of them, not just the two you’ve probably heard of, THC and CBD. So what are cannabinoids and where do they come from?

WHAT ARE CANNABINOIDS?

Cannabinoids are nothing more than chemical compounds. The human body manufactures cannabinoids – called endocannabinoids – as a kind of metabolic stabilizer. Plants also make these compounds, but they use them as a natural defense mechanism against environmental threats such as insects and weather.

When they are made in plants, they are called phytocannabinoids . Phytocannabinoids, along with terpenes, flavonoids and other desirable compounds, are produced in trichomes – external glands that appear as tiny hair-like growths on plants.

WHEN WERE CANNABINOIDS DETECTED?

Cannabinoids were not discovered until the last century. In the 1930s, German and American scientists began preliminary studies on the plant. In Germany, when Hitler came to power, he banned research. However, in the United States, some scientists began to study the plant. Among them was a chemist by the name of Siegfried Loewe, who the U.S. Prohibition Agency employed. However, until the 1940s, cannabinoid research aimed to create a “science” that delegitimized and stigmatized the use of the plant.

Serious research on cannabinoids did not begin in the 1940s until after World War II. Professor Raphael Mechoulam is considered the figurehead of this research. With research conducted in Israel and largely funded by the US government, he continued to be a pioneer in this field for the next half-century. Mechoulam was also the one who discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Today, the ECS is considered the fourth major circulatory system of the human body.

HOW MANY CANNABINOIDS ARE THERE?

More than 100 cannabinoids have been identified in the cannabis plant. All are still being researched, but six of these cannabinoids have already been extensively studied. They are:

  • THC: Also known as tetrahydrocannabinol, it is the most popular cannabinoid. It is psychoactive and is responsible for the “high” that recreational users enjoy.
  • CBD: Also known as cannabidiol, it is used as a daily supplement and for specific purposes related to personal health and wellbeing. It does not produce any psychoactive effects.
  • THCV: Also known as tetrahydrocannabivarin, this compound has only recently received attention. This psychoactive cannabinoid is mainly found in strains from Asia.
  • CBDV: It is also known as cannabidivarin, it is a non-psychoactive compound that is more common in wild indica strains.
  • CBG: Also known as cannabigerol, it is a non-psychoactive compound. It was discovered in 1964 and only occurs in traces in modern varieties.
  • CBC: Also known as cannabichrome, it is one of the most common cannabinoids in cannabis.

HOW DOES CANNABINOIDS INTERACT WITH THE HUMAN BODY?

Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the human body and together form the endocannabinoid system (ECS). These receptors are involved in a wide variety of physiological processes, including appetite, mood, and memory.

There are two major types of cannabinoid receptors. The first, called CB1, is found in the central and peripheral nervous systems. CB2 receptors are located primarily in the immune system, lungs, liver and kidneys. However, recent research shows that they are also formed in the brain.

The “orphan receptor” GPR55 is also very interesting. Research has shown that GPR55 is sensitive to cannabinoids and could therefore soon be classified as a CB3 receptor. Other receptors, such as the TRP Vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) channel, modulates the sensation of pain and could also act as a cannabinoid receptor. Serotonin receptors are also known to be influenced by cannabinoids such as CBD.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg, as there is still a long way to go before the molecular goals of each cannabinoid are fully understood.

ARE CANNABINOIDS GOOD FOR YOU?

The question of whether cannabinoids are “good” for you can be found in the decades of arguments about legalization and medical use. In the middle of the last decade, when recreational use reform emerged in Canada and many U.S. states, these questions were at the center of all discussions about legalization.

Cannabis containing THC is currently classified as a narcotic. It is generally prescribed only when all other options for use have been exhausted. On the other hand, CBD is widely promoted as a wellness product because it is supposed to balance the body, relieve tension, and improve mood. Many people consume this cannabinoid in the form of oil.

As cannabis reform continues, there is no doubt that more research is being conducted on the health effects of cannabinoid use. Given that there are over 100 such chemical compounds in the plant, there is undoubtedly still much to be learned.

ARE CANNABINOIDS LEGAL?

Cannabinoids are gradually becoming legal. In recent years, cannabis plants containing THC have been legitimized for medicinal and recreational use in Canada and many American states. In Europe, cannabis containing THC is classified as a narcotic drug and is legally available in countries such as Germany on prescription.

Plants that contain mainly CBD and virtually no THC (also called hemp) are slowly being legalized in most countries at the federal level and regulated for the food, food supplement and cosmetic markets.