What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are compounds produced by cannabis plants which interact with the mammalian endocannabinoid system. THC is the most famous cannabinoid as it causes the high synonymous with marijuana.
Cannabinoids are vital to the health of cannabis plants and have evolved to protect the plant from insects and disease. They are sticky resinous compounds, so they cause insects to stick to them and die. They also have a strong odor which repels other species of insects. Finally, they exhibit notable antibacterial and antifungal effects, which protect hemp and cannabis plants from blight and other plant diseases.
All of the cannabinoids have an acidic form and a neutral form, for example Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) vs. tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The acid form is the only form of cannabinoids that is produced in plants.
With exposure to heat, light, or oxygen in the atmosphere, cannabinoid acids lose a carbon dioxide molecule and become neutral. The acid forms have mild biological effects, but the vast majority of cannabinoid effects are exerted by the neutral forms of the molecules.
- One of the most abundant phytocannabinoids, thanks to selective breeding
- Negatively modulates cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors, causing the body to produce more receptors and more endocannabinoids, improving overall signalling efficiency
- Activates serotonin 5-HT1a receptors, producing the same effect as normal serotonin release: a decrease of activity in the amygdala, the fear-response center of the brain
- Potent antioxidant thanks to the presence of 2 OH groups, seen at right
- Activates gene transcription factors that limit tumorigenesis and cell proliferation
Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)
- Identical to CBD except for the presence of the carboxyl group inside the red box: all cannabinoids are present in their acid forms in the plant, and get degraded into their neutral form via heat (burning) or light (over time)
- Potent inhibitor of COX 1 and 2 enzymes, responsible for production of prostaglandins and initiation of the inflammatory response
- Exhibits the antioxidant effects of CBD
Cannabigerolic acid (CBGA)
- Known as the “mother cannabinoid”, CBGA is the precursor to all of the other cannabinoids
- Via the specific enzymes found in the genes of the that plant, CBGA gets turned into the more abundant cannabinoids including CBDA and THCA as the plant matures. This leaves very little CBGA present by the time a plant is fully grown.
- The acid forms of cannabinoids get turned into their neutral, more well-known forms via heat during combustion, or over time with exposure to light
- All of the acid forms of cannabinoids will be designated with the red square.
- CBG has extensive antioxidant characteristics, with greater activity than both vitamins C and E
- CBG acts as an antagonist of both CB1 and CB2 receptors, counteracting the effects of THC which is an agonist: this is how it produces the high
- CBG prevents the reuptake of GABA, which is the brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means CBG allows more GABA to remain effective in the brain.
- Cannabinoids with the suffix “-varin” have their sidechain shortened by 2 carbons, seen here in the green box.
- CBDV increases levels of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which is the mechanism of several antiepileptic medications
- Is a mild antagonist of both CB1 and CB2 receptors
- Increases the amount of CB1 receptors present in the brain, modifying the effects of other cannabinoids and endocannabinoids
- Inhibits TRPV and TRPA receptors, which are key players in the nervous response to painful stimuli
- Limits hyperactivity of glands, especially those which produce sebum, the oil that covers our skin
- Stabilizes the peristaltic cycle of smooth muscles in mammals, having no effect on healthy individuals
- Potent inhibitor of a newly discovered cannabinoid receptor, GPR55
- Inhibits all phases of the cell cycle, limiting unwanted tissue growth, or tumorigenesis
- Interacts with the levels and efficacy of several other cannabinoids that act on the peripheral nervous system (sensory nerves)
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)
- The most abundant cannabinoid present in most plants, thanks to selective breeding
- Strongly inhibits the effect of TNF-α, an immune system chemical implicated in many autoimmune disorders
- After heating or drying, the carboxyl group breaks off and the molecule becomes THC
- The most abundant cannabinoid
- It is the only direct agonist of CB1 receptors, which produces the “marijuana high”
- Inhibits several inflammatory processes including production of cytokines known as prostaglandins
- Reduces neuronal excitability, which is a notable characteristic of many epileptic conditions
- Identical to THC except for the shortened sidechain denoted by the green box
- Antagonist of CB1 receptors, counteracting the effects of THC
- Partial agonist of CB2 receptors, having the effect of buffering certain immune system processes and raising initiation thresholds for certain unwanted autoimmune reactions