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Cannabinoids are natural compounds found to exist in the Cannabis sativa plant. While research has indicated the presence of more than 480 natural compounds in the plant, only 66 of these compounds are considered to be cannabinoids. The cannabinoid that has been under the most scrutiny in research is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or delta9 THC. This is the part of the plant that is mainly responsible for its psychoactive effects.
There are different classifications of cannabinoids. These include the following:
- Cannabinol, also known as CBN
- Cannabinodiol, also known as CBDL
- Tetrahydrocannabinols, also known as THC
- Cannabidiols, also known as CBD
- Cannabichromenes, also known as CBC
- Cannabigerols, also known as CBG
- Cannabicyclol, also known as CBL
- Cannabielsoin, also known as CBE
- Cannabitriol, also known as CBT
The Action of Cannabinoids on the Body
Cannabinoids are similar to other drugs, such as heroin, which is derived from the opium poppy plant. This means that it has an effect on the user by having an interaction with certain neurotransmitter receptors that are located in the central nervous system (CNS).
Research has revealed two types of cannabinoid receptors in the brain and have referred to them as CB1 and CB2. There is a natural substance within the brain itself that have been found to bind to CB1 receptors that was first identified in 1992 by research scientists. All of the receptors that have been found to exist within the brain are collectively named “endogenous cannabinoid receptors”.
The effects on the brain by the action of cannabinoids occur in various parts of the brain. There are actions within the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that affects psychomotor performance, cognitive abilities, and memory. Cannabis also acts on the mesolimbic pathway of the brain, which is responsible for the development of feelings of reward. Areas of the brain involved in the perception of pain are also acted upon by cannabis.
Research is currently being done on the endogenous cannabinoid system; however, most of the studies have been focusing on the various potential medical uses of cannabinoids that are synthetically made, known as “synthetic analogues”.
The Difference between the Various Cannabinoids
The main differences between the various cannabinoids relate to their ability to be psychologically active inside the brain. There are three types of cannabinoids (the CBD, CBC, and CBG cannabinoids) that have been found to have psychoactive effects. CBDL, CBN, and THC, among other cannabinoids have been found to have psychoactive effects but to varying degrees.
The most common cannabinoid is CBD, which makes up about 40 percent of the resin found in cannabis. CBD is believed to have an anxiolytic effect and is believed to decrease the psychoactive effects of THC. This indicates that plants containing higher amounts of CBD may be able to lessen the intensity of the psychoactive effects of THC, decreasing the potency of the cannabis plant. Usage of a cannabis plant containing lesser amounts of CBD has been found to have a greater psychological effect on the brain and may lead to unwanted side effects, including anxiety.
The exposure of THC to air causes it to oxidize and to form CBN. CBN is a weak psychoactive agent and interacts with THC in a similar way as CBD to lessen the drug’s effects. This is why unused cannabis that has been left exposed to the air has more CBN in it and contains lesser amounts of THC, causing a loss of potency.
Cannabis, then, is actually a variety of compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant that is used medicinally for the relief of inflammation, nausea, and the sensation of pain. They imitate the cannabinoids produced normally in the human body in order to maintain health and internal physical and mental stability. They act as mediators for the communication between brain cells. When there is a malfunction of the endocannabinoid system, cannabis alleviates the physical complaints and unpleasant symptoms that can occur.
As mentioned, the different cannabinoids have differing bodily effects, depending on which receptors the cannabinoids bind to. For example, cannabinol (CBN) binds strongly to CB-2 receptors in different areas of the body whereas THC has been found to bind to various brain receptors. By making use of the right cannabinoid and directing it to the proper receptor, different types of relief can be obtained.
These effects make cannabis useful as a medication. In fact, the results of research studies are so positive that many cannabinoids have been synthetically made for legal use by prescription only. The various prescription forms of cannabinoids include Nabilone, Rimonabant, and Marinol. While it has been found that these synthetic forms of cannabis are medically effective, other research indicates that the natural form of cannabis has a greater variety of compounds that have been found to be therapeutic.
As mentioned, there are dozens of different types of cannabinoids. Many of these compounds have been found to have value in treating medical conditions. There have been strains of cannabis that have been bred to contain larger amounts of different types of cannabinoids, so understanding which types are better able to treat the various symptoms is helpful when choosing the cannabinoid to use.
The Effectiveness of Different Cannabinoids
Different cannabinoids are used to treat different symptoms related to GI disorders, neurological problems, mood, sleeping difficulties, and other medical problems.
The basic categories for which cannabinoids are used include the gastrointestinal system, pain and sleep disorders, mood and behavioral disorders, neurological disorders, and other types of medical conditions.
Among problems with pain and sleep, various cannabinoids can be used to treat sleep apnea, cramps, migraine headaches, phantom limb pain, spinal cord injury, insomnia, fibromyalgia, arthritis, pain, and inflammation.
Among problems with gastrointestinal complaints, other cannabinoids can be used to treat medical problems such as loss of appetite, anorexia, cachexia, nausea, diabetes, and Crohn’s disease.
Among problems with the neurological system, various types of cannabinoids can be used to manage problems of the nervous system, including Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy, seizures, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, spasticity, ALS, and osteoporosis.
Miscellaneous diseases for which cannabinoids have been found to be helpful include the following: asthma, fatigue, high blood pressure, glaucoma, HIV disease, muscular dystrophy, and cancer.