There are misconceptions about how cannabis varieties affect people and why varieties taste different. Despite evolving scientific understandings, confusion remains around the taxonomy of cannabis. This misunderstanding is also due to the political discussion around THC and CBD. An increased understanding of the human endocannabinoid system, and also the fact that each person’s system interacts with cannabis differently, further complicates this confusion.
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis that bind to endogenous cannabinoid receptors in the human body. The main function of the human body’s endocannabinoid system is the promotion of homeostasis within various bodily functions. Using cannabis may result in peaks or valleys from a balanced state. It may also help to achieve a balanced state if a person’s endocannabinoid system is not properly regulating itself because of disease, infection or inflammation.
There are currently over 100 known cannabinoids, each with its own effect on the body. THC is well known for the psychotropic/euphoric high it produces. CBD is known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and seizure-reducing properties, all without the psychotropic effect. It is also known that cannabinoids work better when working together in the body (entourage effect) versus in isolation. This is also called phytochemical synergy.
Some examples of cannabinoids found in cannabis are:
THC: generally the most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis causing the most psychotropic effects
analgesic, appetite stimulant, antiemetic, antispasmodic
THCa: main constituent in raw cannabis converting to Δ9-THC when heated
anti-inflammatory, anti epileptic, anti-proliferative
THCv: minor cannabinoid found in only some strains of cannabis
anorectic, anti-epileptic, anti-diabetic, bone-stimulant
CBN: mildly psychoactive cannabinoid that is produced from the degradation of THC
analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-somnia
CBD: rather than an “on/off” or “lock and key” receptor mechanism, CBD modifies the receptiveness of endocannabinoid receptors and also appears to interact elsewhere in the body
analgesic, anti-inflammatory, appetite stimulant, antiemetic, intestinal anti prokinetic, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, antiepileptic, antispasmodic, immunosuppressive, anti-diabetic, neuroprotective, antipsoriatic, anti-ischemic, anti-bacterial, anti-proliferative, bone-stimulant
CBDa: CBD’s form prior to decarboxylation
CBDv: recent studies show relationship to managing epilepsy
CBG: non-psychoactive cannabinoid
analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-proliferative, bone-stimulant
CBGa: CBG’s form prior to decarboxylation
CBC: second most prevalent cannabinoid in cannabis produced through an enzymatic process converting CBGa to CBCa, which then makes CBC when heated
analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-proliferative, bone, stimulant
CBCa: CBC’s form prior to decarboxylation
New research and understanding of the chemical makeup of cannabis is pressing the idea of the entourage effect further. This research is helping to explain why some cannabis varieties work better for certain needs, and is also providing insight into variations in flavor profiles.
The latest important discovery within cannabis chemistry is of terpenes and flavonoids. Their individual attributes, and the ways they interact with cannabinoids and each other, are helping to propel our understanding of cannabis as medicine, recreation, and more.
Terpenes are chemical compounds produced by cannabis that define the plants’ flavor and smell. Similar to cannabinoids, there are over 100 different terpenes found to exist in various cannabis varieties. Terpenes have also shown interaction within the body. They are seen as safe and possessing potential therapeutic effects.
Some examples of terpenes found in cannabis with their aroma/flavor, some effects/medical value, and an example strain are:
Myrcene: tropical and earthy; analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic (Pure Kush)
Limonene: citrus; antifungal, antibacterial properties, and anticarcinogenic (Super Lemon Haze)
Pinene: pine; expectorant, bronchodilator, anti-inflammatory, and local antiseptic (Jack Herer)
Eucalyptol: mint; pain relief and improved concentration (ChemDawg)
Terpineol: floral; sedative (White Rhino)
Borneol: mint; combat fatigue, stress, and illness (Diamond Girl)
Caryophyllene: pepper; anti-inflammatory and analgesic (Super Silver Haze)
Linalool: lavender; anti-anxiety and sedative (Grape Ape)
New research indicates that, much like cannabinoids working together for increased efficacy, terpenes may work synergistically with cannabinoids for increased therapeutic effect.
Flavonoids are part of the nutrient family in plants. During growth, they help the plant filter light and protect them from mold, mildew, and pests. In consumption, flavonoids add to the color, aroma, flavor, and effect that cannabis produces.
Flavonoids unique to cannabis are called cannaflavins. They have been known to be antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and suppress cancer and allergies. Cannaflavins interact with other receptors in the body, not just cannabinoid receptors. They have also been found to interact with the efficacy of all the chemical compounds found in cannabis to create an entourage effect.