Most people have heard of the two main cannabinoids, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).  However, it may surprise some to learn that the cannabis plant actually contains a minimum of 80 cannabinoids, approx. 15% of the 480 different compounds present in the plant.  These compounds are generally broken down into following subclasses:

  • Cannabigerols (CBG)
  • Cannabichromenes (CBC)
  • Cannabidiol (CBD)
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • Cannabinol (CBN)
  • Cannabinodiol (CBDL)
  • Other cannabinoids including cannabicyclol (CBL), cannabielsoin (CBE) and cannabitriol (CBT)

What Is The Endocannabinoid System

An intricate cell-signalling system in the brain and body, the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is activate in humans whether or not that consume cannabis.  It is comprised of:

Endocannabinoids: Two endogenous cannabinoids made organically by your body (anandamide & 2-arachidonoylglyerol).

Receptors: There are two main receptors CB1 (located in the central nervous system) and CB2 (located in your in your peripheral nervous system/immune cells).  Endocannabinoids bind to these receptors throughout the body to activate the ECS when required.

Enzymes:  Simply put, enzymes breaking down endocannabinoids post activation.  The two main enzymes found in the human body are fatty acid amide hydrolase and monoacylglycerol acid lipase.

The ECS is believed to be a key component in the regulation of plethora of bodily functions that contribute to homeostasis such as a sleep, appetite, mood, stress, pain and memory, to name a few.  As such, if your body’s homeostasis is disrupted by an external force (i.e. pain from an injury) your ECS will activate to help return your body to it’s ideal equilibrium.  This has led some researchers to increasingly explore a medical theory known as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD).  The hypothesis behind CECD is that low endocannabinoid levels in humans (i.e. ECS dysfunction) can advance the development of numerous specific conditions, including migraine, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  More research is required, however, if CECD is proven, cannabinoid supplementation could be fast-tracked as a possible treatment.

How Does THC Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?

THC, the most common cannabinoid for producing the euphoric ‘high’ that is synonymous with cannabis, binds to the receptors much like your body’s organic endocannabinoids.  What makes THC so unique, and powerful, is that is has the ability to interact with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors.  As such, when interacting with one’s ECS a multiple of effects can take place affecting both body and mind.  Typically, positive results can range from pain reduction, appetite stimulation and sleep promotion.  On the other side of the coin, THC can also induce paranoia and anxiety, which will vary based on an individual’s metabolism, ECS function and tolerance.

How Does CBD Interact with the Endocannabinoid System?

CBD, the other main cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant, does not generate any form of ‘high’ and is widely believed to have little to no negative side effects when consumed in moderation.  CBD is also used to manage pain, nausea and insomnia, however, this cannabinoid does not bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors the way THC does.  Instead, it is believed that cannabidiol works by preventing the deterioration of existing endocannabinoids, thus enhancing their positive effects on the body.  

Want to know the difference between CBD and THC? Check out our article The difference between CBD and THC.

What about the other 80+ Cannabinoids?

In 1999, the term ‘Entourage Effect’ was introduced to the cannabis world, referring to the how the many cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids found in the plant can work together to amplify the positive effects derived from THC, CBD or a combination of the two.  It is believed that the Entourage Effect has the ability to both enhance the positive elements of certain cannabinoids (i.e. pain reduction) while reducing some of the negative effects (i.e. THC induced paranoia).  With that said, the Entourage Effect is still a contentious subject with much research required to fully understand the phenomena.

An Incomplete Picture

As the medical community continue to gain a greater understanding of cannabinoids and how they interact with the human body, the ‘known unknowns’ are increasingly evident.  How many cannabinoids actually exist?  Is clinical endocannabinoid deficiency responsible for many aliments plaguing the health industry.  Are there a third category of receptors, or potentially more, in the endocannabinoids system?  What is the true value of the Entourage Effect?

As we move away from the restrictive prohibition laws that have stifled medical innovation globally, we move closer to unlocking the medicinal power of the cannabis plant and truly appreciating each component that makes it truly unique.