Cannabinoids are the naturally occurring chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant that account for its unique effects on the human body. At least 85 cannabinoids have been distinctly identified, and over 112 cannabinboids are believed to exist. The two primary cannabinoids, however, are Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannibinol (THC).
Owing to the effects of these compounds, cannabis has long been used as a medicinal and recreational drug. As modern research sheds more light on how cannabinoids work, however, we are seeing promising breakthroughs regarding their medical potential.
The Endocannabinoid System
As it happens, cannabinoids are not found merely in the cannabis plant—they're also produced naturally In the human body. These internally occurring compounds, known as endocannabinoids, work with two primary cannabinoid receptors, CB-1, found primarily in the brain and nervous system, and CB-2, found throughout the body. Endocannabinoids pair with these receptors to facilitate neurotransmission processes, which have an impact on several bodily functions, including sleep patterns, appetite, pain sensitivity, and many others.
A given person's endocannabinoid system can and often does fall out of balance, especially if it has been compromised by disease or injury, causing any number of auxiliary adverse health effects. This is where the cannabis plant's medicinal value comes into play. Cannabis' naturally occurring cannabinoids (known also as phytocannabinoids) react with the body's endocannabinoid receptors to provide a similar neurological effect.
THC is the most prominent—and most famous—compound produced by the cannabis plant. It is known, of course, for its psychoactive effects, which can include euphoric sensations, increased sensory perception, and, in high enough doses, hallucinations. It's also being studied to explore its application in reducing inflammation and mitigating pain, regulating sleep patterns, reducing nausea and vomiting, and stimulating a weak appetite.
The other major cannabinoid, CBD, was discovered much more recently than THC, but its medicinal uses have come to be highly valued. CBD has been shown to be especially useful in preventing seizures and it has demonstrated antipsychotic properties that may be useful in treating anxiety.
Moreover, CBD does not produce the psychoactive effects of THC. Patients can enjoy the benefits of CBD or full-spectrum hemp oil without experiencing the “high” they would get from THC-yielding cannabis products.
As we noted, there are hundreds of naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. THC and CBD are the most prominent and most closely studied among them, but others also yield similarly promising results. These cannabinoids include CBN, CBDA, CBG, CBGA, THCA, and THCV, all of which are similar but subtly different molecular compounds to CBD and THC and are being studied to determine their usefulness in supporting overall health and well-being.
The range of benefits demonstrated by known cannabinoids, and the cannabis compounds yet to be fully explored, suggests that more discoveries are yet to come.