Cannabis is a complex plant.
Depending on the cannabis strain and potency, it can make you feel all sorts of things: energized or tired, alert or relaxed or even free from pain. The plant also has a number of medicinal effects that experts have begun to use to treat anxiety, nausea, chronic pain, and even seizures.
How, exactly, does cannabis produce these effects? And what’s the reason for the variety here?
Cannabinoids—or chemical compounds found inside the cannabis plant—are the answer. This article will examine what cannabinoids are, how they work, and how some of the most common compounds interact with the body.
Are you ready to dive in? Let’s get started.
What Are Cannabinoids?
Experts believe there are approximately 150 chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. Among these are a variety of cannabinoids.
Generally, cannabinoids are unique to the plant in type and quantity. These compounds interact with the nervous system and create a range of effects.
You might view cannabinoids as similar to endocannabinoids (also known as endogenous cannabinoids). This is because the body creates endocannabinoids to create homeostasis, which oversees our internal health and immune function.
In this way, endocannabinoids signal to other cells in the body and promote subtle feelings of euphoria. This is a lighter feeling than a “high,” but it’s light and calming nonetheless.
Now let’s move on to how cannabinoids work in the body.
How Do Cannabinoids Work in the Body?
It wasn’t until the 20th century that researchers began to dive deep into the effects of cannabis on the brain and body. In the 1980s, scientists discovered that cannabinoids bind to two different classes of receptors.
These receptors include:
- CB1 receptors, which are most often found in the brain cells and central nervous system.
- CB2 receptors, which are generally found in the body and in the immune system.
How do these receptors work? They operate in a similar fashion to other chemical compounds, binding with cannabinoids like a lock would react to a key. The receptors contain metabolic enzymes that break down the compounds and unleash effects similar to naturally-occurring endocannabinoids.
Before we move on and discuss the most popular cannabinoids, there are a few things of note:
The next section will examine some of the most common cannabinoids.
The Most Common Cannabinoids
You’re probably familiar with popular cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
However, there are many others present as well. In fact, different strains and products are often created to include specific cannabinoids. This helps to achieve a specific set of effects, ranging from stress relief to anti-inflammation and more.
With that, here are the most common types of cannabinoids:
THC is one of the only cannabinoids that can actually produce a high, or noticeable intoxication. Even other psychoactive cannabinoids are less powerful than THC.
Despite this seemingly rare characteristic, THC is one of the most prevalent compounds in today’s cannabis strains. It was the first-ever cannabinoid to be isolated and, medicinally, it can help relieve pain, digestive issues, and mood problems.
Generally, THC binds with CB1 receptors in the brain.
Another well-known cannabinoid, CBD is widely-recognized yet in many ways the opposite of THC. This is because it doesn’t produce a high, and it is more likely to bind with CB2 receptors in the body than the brain’s CB1 receptors.
Accordingly, the effects of CBD are more physiological than those linked to THC.
Pain relief and lower blood pressure are two examples.
Also known as cannabigerol, CBG is a less common cannabinoid that researchers have only just begun to explore.
Popular in the hemp industry—and non-psychoactive like CBD—the compound is usually present in very small quantities.
CBG is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and also known for helping to treat digestive health problems.
CBC, or cannabichromene, is another non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Like CBD, it serves as a buffer against THC—and it’s also been found to play an important role in neurological health.
From neuroplasticity to neurogenesis, look no further than CBC if you’re hoping to give your brain a boost.
CBC is also recognized for its anti-inflammatory properties. Though research on this minor cannabinoid remains limited, there’s undeniably a lot to unpack here.
CBN (cannabinol) is very mildly psychoactive, though only marginally compared to THC.
Created via oxygenation—a process that occurs when THC is exposed to oxygen—it may account for why older cannabis loses potency (but maintains other effects).
The truth is that CBN boasts powerful benefits. It’s considered an effective sleep aid, a potential treatment for glaucoma and arthritis, and it’s even been linked to bone regrowth.
Cannabinoids: A Summary
Used in tandem, different cannabinoids can create even more powerful effects. This is part of what is known as the entourage effect, which consists of using products featuring different levels of different compounds.
“Full-spectrum” or “broad-spectrum” cannabinoid products usually involve higher concentrations of one cannabinoid, and lower concentrations of another (or several others). A key benefit here is that the effects can be tailored to your individual health goals.
Of course, before making changes to your supplement program, you’ll want to consult a doctor. A healthcare practitioner can help guide you through your cannabinoid experience and make sure you’re on the right path.
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