Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that occur naturally in the human body (endocannabinoids) and plants (phytocannabinoids). These compounds interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in mammals, in which trigger various physiological actions.
Among over 500 phyto components in cannabis, more than 100 are classified as phytocannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the best-known cannabinoid due to its psychoactive qualities, while cannabidiol (CBD) seems to play the most significant role in the plant’s medicinal benefits.
Other primary phytocannabinoids include:
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
- Cannabinodiol (CBL)
CBD, which does not produce intoxicating effects, is often isolated for medical purposes. However, research studies suggest that cannabinoids are mutually enhancing and provide the best results in whole-plant form, other known as the entourage effect.
Endocannabinoids, including anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), play roles in metabolism, food intake, memory, sensory perception, central nervous system development, and neural plasticity.
Cannabinoid receptors are embedded ALL over the body; in the cellular membrane in the central nervous, immune system, as well as in various organs. Both endo- and phytocannabinoids bind to these receptors or influence them indirectly. As external environments and stressors change, the ECS helps the body maintain a balanced biological environment or homeostasis.
The two main ECS receptors are CB1, which is found primarily in the central and peripheral nervous system, and CB2, primarily found in the immune system. While THC binds directly to cannabinoid receptors, CBD impacts them indirectly by stimulating endocannabinoid production in the body and suppressing the enzyme that metabolizes the natural chemicals.
How Cannabinoids Work
The ECS is responsible for regulating physiological functioning, such as appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory. Cannabinoids mediate communication between various cells and systems. When ECS receptors become activated, they trigger a diversity of chemical, natural and pharmacological effects relating to how we feel, both mentally and physically. Phytocannabinoids molecular structures are very similar to endocannabinoid structures, allowing them to interact with the ECS as if they were endocannabinoids.
Some research suggests the ECS serves as a bridge between the brain and the body. Depending on which area of the brain where the cannabinoids bind will dictate how the cannabis will affect the user. These areas include the mesolimbic pathway, the part of the brain associated with feelings of reward; the limbic system, which affects memory, cognition and psychomotor performance, as well as other areas of the brain associated with pain perception. Medical cannabis treatments are widely based on the practice of directing the right cannabinoids at the right receptors.