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Cannabinoids: What Are Phytocannabinoids?

What are phytocannabinoids?

Phytocannabinoids are the cannabinoids produced in hemp and marijuana that are of value to the cultural and medical communities. They include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).  In general, cannabinoids produced in plants are called phytocannabinoids.   Endocannabinoids are cannabinoid molecules produced in the human body.  These include anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).

The endocannabinoid system is the network of receptors that interact with cannabinoids; CB1 receptors are found primarily in the brain, and CB2 is located throughout the immune system.  CB1 is actually the most numerous receptor expressed in the human brain, and it is believed that both receptor types serve major roles in homeostasis and biofeedback mechanisms.  Some researchers are finding more and more evidence that points to a hemp-based diet as the catalyst that allowed an endocannabinoid system to flourish in our ancestors tens of thousands of years ago, and therefore be passed down to us.  Here’s a look at some of the phytocannabinoids they would have been consuming, the same ones still prevalent in cannabis today.

Phytocannabinoids

  • Cannabigerol (CBG) is the precursor to most other phytocannabinoids.  It has a wide range of therapeutic uses, and is more effective than CBD in several of them including neuropathic pain.  However, it is converted by enzymes in the trichomes of cannabis plants into the below delineated cannabinoids and around 107 others as well, so by the time a plant is mature there is very little CBG remaining.  It is currently undergoing research by GW Pharmaceuticals.
  • Cannabidivarin (CBDV) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is an analog of the CBD molecule, with a 3 carbon sidechain (propyl) instead of 5 carbons (pentyl).  It shares many of the same characteristics as CBD, and is under research for use as an anticonvulsant.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is the most therapeutically useful of all of the phytocannabinoids.  It has profound value as an anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, anti-psychotic, anti-insomnia, antidepressant, anxiolytic, antioxidant, neuroprotective, immunostimulant, and anti-spastic.  CBD operates via several mechanisms of action, but it has little affinity for CB1 or CB2 receptors.  It acts as a negative allosteric modulator on these, but it is an agonist of serotonin 5-HT1a receptors, which mediate fear, mood, and anxiety, and on TRPV-1 vanilloid receptors, which are involved in pain and the inflammatory response.  It is undergoing immense research and is the subject of the esteem of millions of people who have found relief from debilitating conditions that traditional treatments could not provide for decades.
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most famous cannabinoid of all.  It is responsible for producing the high that users of marijuana experience.  It is a potent agonist of CB1 receptors, and by this mechanism it stimulates the release of endocannabinoids which regulate mood and appetite among other things.  THC has been found to have relatively potent anti-inflammatory action, with around 20 times the efficacy of aspirin as an inhibitor of the primary hormone that initiates the inflammatory response.  THC’s intoxicating effects were used by industrialists to lobby for the prohibition of industrial hemp in order to preserve their business exploits.
  • Cannabichromene (CBC) is another highly therapeutic compound found in cannabis.  It is the most potent anti-cancer cannabinoid, through action on CB2 receptors in tumor cells that produce surface antigens which recruit cytotoxic immune cells to come destroy it.  Interestingly, CBC is the only cannabinoid believed to stimulate the growth of brain cells, which as not even thought to be possible until the late 1990s.  This is leading to research for its use as an anti-Alzheimer’s therapy.

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