As you may already know, we all have an endocannabinoid system (ECS) that interacts with endocannabinoids (cannabinoids that are made in the body). The ECS is an extensive regulatory system that maintains our overall well-being (homeostasis) and connects our various organs and systems.
Many plant cannabinoids can act on the ECS too. The most famous (or infamous) is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), followed by cannabidiol (CBD). These two are the most abundant cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, and right now are the most well-known. But scientists have been studying these and many other cannabis plant compounds for almost a century. In fact, we have THC to thank for the discovery of the ECS.
Why They’re Called Cannabinoids
Human beings and the cannabis plant have a medicinal history that goes back to Ancient Middle East and Europe. We seem to be designed to use the phytocannabinoids in cannabis, and in the 1980s researchers made a discovery that suggests just that. They wondered why a receptor in the human brain existed for THC, as if made for it. This led them to guess that there was a similar chemical already existing in the human body. After a few years, they discovered anandamide, the human “well-being” cannabinoid, which acts similarly to THC on our receptors. Not long after that, they discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS). That’s why they’re called “cannabinoids”—we discovered them in cannabis before we even knew we produced our own for a “cannabinoid system” in our bodies.
There are over 100 known phytocannabinoids, but many of them are so rare or have very little presence in the cannabis plant (remember, hemp is cannabis) that we still do not know the extent of their existence or effects.
However, there are some “main” phytocannabinoids that have been studied extensively in the lab. It’s important to remember that most of the research that has been done on cannabinoids is preclinical, meaning it has been done in labs on animal models and human tissue. Still, as we said earlier, humans have had a medicinal relationship with cannabis since ancient times. We can’t deny that cannabis has therapeutic effects on us—and even our pets. But there are a lot of knowledge gaps that still need to be filled, and with more clinical human trials, just think of how we can fine-tune these cannabinoids into weapons against diseases and debilitating conditions.
In this article, we’re going to introduce you to the Big Six, or what we like to call the Cannabinoid All-Stars. We’ll tell you about each cannabinoid by type, then we’ll group them by their associated effects. You’ll be caught up to cannabinoid speed in no time!
The Cannabinoid Lineup
Imagine for a moment that your ECS is a basketball court. When you turn phytocannabinoids loose on your ECS, they’re like the players. Some of them are known for special talents and skillsets, but they always work as a team. That team aspect is called “the entourage effect”.
You could even say that you’re making plays when you decide to use certain cannabis strains that have certain amounts or combinations of cannabinoids (and terpenes and flavonoids) that you want to “put in the game.”
Okay, we’ll ease off the game metaphor, but you get the drift now, right? It’s not just about CBD and THC. We have a cannabinoid architecture in our bodies, nature’s architecture. And there’s a plant in nature that contains—what couldn’t possibly be construed as coincidence—an amazing amount of compounds (cannabinoids, terpenes, and cannaflavins, among others) that can interact with our human ECS and produce therapeutic effects.
So without further ado, these six main cannabinoid all-stars are:
- Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
Where Do These Cannabinoids Come from?
These cannabinoids do not just come ready-made in cannabis plants. The plant makes cannabinoid acids, such as:
- THCA (Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid)
- CBDA (Cannabidiolic Acid)
- CBGA (Cannabigerolic Acid)
- THCVA (Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabivarinic Acid)
- CBCA (Cannabichromenic Acid)
These acids do not have the usual sought-after effects of cannabinoids until they are decarboxylated, or activated, through heat. Therefore, THCA will not interact with ECS receptors until it has been heated and activated to become THC. The same for CBDA. That is why medical cannabis and hemp flower are often smoked or vaped. When you have an extract, the CBD and other phytocannabinoids are decarboxylated for you during the extraction process.
It all starts with CBGA, oddly enough. It’s odd because, when all is said and done in a mature cannabis plant, there’s almost no CBG left (breeders have found a way to make high-CBG hemp, but in nature, it doesn’t exist without mutation, which is rare). Enzymes in the cannabis plant synthesize CBGA into THCA, CBDA, and CBCA. THCA and CBDA are the most abundant lineages, which is why THC and CBD are the most abundant cannabinoids to come out the the plant. There are also “V” or “varin” acids (these have slightly shorter chemical structures) like THCVA, from which we get THCV—one of our all-stars.
Although cannabinoid acids do not produce the same effects as our all-stars, some do have antibiotic and insecticidal properties. Scientists believe these are the reason why they are made: to defend the plant.
Finally, cannabinolic acid (CBNA) is not a direct result of CBGA. CBNA is a degraded product of THCA. And CBN is a breakdown cannabinoid of THC. This happens over time, with exposure to oxygen and sunlight. As you will see, though, this all-star may have some nice benefits to offer.
Now let’s take a look at these amazing individual cannabinoids.
Cannabinoid All-Star Profiles
THC—Not Just for Stoners Anymore
This most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis is known for it’s psychoactive effects. Currently, it is believed to be the only cannabinoid that is intoxicating. (THCV is thought to be at very high doses.) THC activates both CB receptors of the ECS. The psychoactive effect of THC is promoted by the CB1 receptor. The other receptor—CB2—is present in the gastrointestinal tract and the immune system. These receptors stimulate therapeutic benefits when activated.
THC has a wide range of therapeutic uses. Studies have shown that it has positive effects on symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, sleep, loss of appetite, and pain. Research also shows that THC has positive impacts on several health conditions and disorders.
THC is also found to have a variety of properties, including: neuroprotective antioxidant, anti-itch, muscle relaxant, and bronchodilatory properties.
CBD—The Friendly Cannabinoid
So, CBD is what is known as a promiscuous molecule—but in a good way. It doesn’t just interact with CB receptors. CBD attaches itself to several receptors in a variety of systems in the body.
This may very well explain why CBD has such a range of therapeutic effects. It fits into many different receptors, getting a different reaction from each one.
Our brains have highly specialized cells called neurons. These neurons communicate by releasing neurotransmitters—chemical messengers like dopamine, serotonin, etc. These attach to the receptors on the neurons. The ECS has cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. These are designed to receive the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG.
In a cannabinoid receptor, CBD acts as an antagonist and blocks THC from directly binding to receptors and exerting its euphoric effects. This is why strains that have a high CBD:THC ratio will not get a person “very” high. The CBD works to moderate THC’s effects.
In other receptors, though, CBD can take direct action. Some of these include:
- Opioid Receptors—CBD binds directly with opioid receptors. This explains its potential to treat pain, but also the role CBD may have in the treatment of drug addiction. Opioid receptors are the docking bays for drugs like morphine, heroin, and fentanyl. CBD’s influence on opioid receptors could help deter opioid drug abuse.
- Dopamine Receptors—Because CBD interacts directly with these receptors, it could influence addiction and depression. Dopamine receptors are involved in regulating behavior and cognitions. It is believed that through these, CBD can effect motivation and reward-seeking behavior associated with drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
- Serotonin Receptors—CBD also has direct interaction with serotonin receptors in the brain. In this capacity, CBD has the potential to treat anxiety, depression, the drug-seeking behavior involved in addiction, and more.
Additionally, CBD works to increase anandamide levels. Anandamide (AEA), an endocannabinoid made naturally in our brain, is responsible for regulating movement control, appetite, pain, and our overall sense of well-being.
CBD helps keep anandamide around longer by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down anandamide—fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH).
The therapeutic effects of CBD are extensive and believed to include: neuroprotective, anticonvulsant, anti-tumor, anti-nausea, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, bone-healing stimulant, antipsychotic, antispasmodic, and more.
CBG—One Bad Mother Cannabinoid
Like CBD, CBG is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that is found in cannabis plants, including hemp. As mentioned above, CBG, or CBGA rather, is the parent cannabinoid to all others. Also like CBD, CBG exists in hemp in much higher levels than it does in THC-dominant cannabis. And as you probably know by now, hemp won’t get you high.
Research has shown that the higher levels of CBG in hemp may be caused by a recessive gene. The theory is that the plant prevents the formation of one of the cannabinoid syntheses (a chemical reaction).
CBG also affects the body by causing an increase in anandamide levels.
In the brain, CBG inhibits the uptake of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter responsible for reducing excitability (anxiety and fear responses). In one particular study, it was discovered that the effects of CBG on GABA were far greater than those of CBD and THC.
CBG is also known to antagonize the serotonin receptors, meaning it could help treat depression.
CBG’s therapeutic benefits may include: bone-stimulating properties, slowing of tumor growth, neuroprotective effects, treatment for depression and anxiety, possible treatment for glaucoma, anti-inflammatory, treatment for overactive bladder, and powerfully active against MRSA.
THCV—A Little Goes a Long Way
THCV works in the body and interacts with the ECS in a way that is similar to other cannabinoids, but distinct in its own unique way. At low doses, the THCV cannabinoid binds to and blocks the CB1 receptor and no intoxicating effects are produced. These blocking behaviors make it what is referred to as an antagonist in the cellular scheme of things. Interestingly, when dosage is dramatically increased, THCV becomes an agonist of the CB1 receptor. When it’s being this agreeable version of itself, a very stimulating and clear-headed euphoric state occurs. It’s thought to be similar to the “high” you get with THC, but happens more quickly and does not have its longevity.
It is the low-dose THCV, however, when it’s acting as an antagonist of the CB1 receptor, that can potentially produce some pretty impressive effects, like weight loss, reducing body fat, increasing energy, having anticonvulsant properties, and decreasing edema and hyperalgesia (pain sensitivity).
Evidence in preclinical and human studies suggests that THCV could help manage diabetes, curb panic attacks, treat and possibly help prevent Alzheimer’s, promote bone development, delay symptoms of Parkinson’s, and more.
CBC—The Team Player
What makes this cannabinoid special is the way it interacts with the ECS and other cannabinoids. It’s a real team player.
Because it binds poorly with CB1 receptors, it is non-intoxicating. CBC binds to other receptors in the body, enhancing your natural cannabinoids. While THC and CBD are busy binding with CB1, CB2 and other receptors, lesser known cannabinoids like CBC are off making other things happen. Very beneficial things. In fact, this 2018 article in Forbes suggests that it’s the more behind-the-scenes cannabinoids like CBC that could be doing the heavy lifting in CBD.
Either way, CBC has some pretty stellar therapeutic benefits, some of which significantly power up the entourage effect of full spectrum CBD and include:
- CBC is known to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Studies show that when paired with CBD and THC, those effects are enhanced. This is the cannabinoid entourage effect at work.
- CBC also regulates the uptake of anandamide, allowing it to stay in the body longer.
- According to a 2013 study on mice, CBC promoted neurogenesis, the stimulation and growth of neural stem cells, which are essential for brain health and homeostasis.
- Taken on its own, CBC has anti-depressant effects because of it’s positive effects on brain cells. When combined with CBD and THC, which exert their anti-depressant effects differently, you get the power of the entourage effect working to combat the blues.
- A 2016 study showed that, along with other cannabinoids, CBC has anti-acne properties.
- CBC has very potent antifungal and antibacterial effects against such organisms as Staph and E. coli.
CBN—The Sleeper Molecule
CBN is unique because it doesn’t exist in the cannabis plant like most other cannabinoids. It’s a metabolite of THC. Put simply, CBN is what THC degrades into when exposed to air, time and heat. CBN does not, however, have the psychoactive effects of THC. As it turns out, aged cannabis is rich in CBN (due to natural breakdown of THC). That’s right, the hemp plant just keeps on giving.
CBN is best known for its natural sedative properties. CBN, especially when combined with other cannabinoids like CBD, can reduce those potential disruptors of sleep. It can decrease the inflammation around your puffy morning eyes, reduce neural and muscle spasms, fight depression and improve your overall mood.
Other potential benefits of CBN include: appetite stimulation, stimulation of bone growth and development, prevention of glaucoma, analgesic effects, anti-inflammatory effects.
Cannabinoids According to Effect
Arthritis: THC, CBD, CBG, CBN, CBC
Fibromyalgia: THC, CBD, CBN
Inflammation: THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN
Insomnia: THC, CBD, CBC, CBN
Migraine: THC, CBD
Pain: THC, CBD, THCV, CBC, CBN
Spinal Injury: THC, CBD
ADD/ADHD: THC, CBD
Anxiety: CBD, CBG
Bipolar: THC, CBD, CBG
Depression: THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN
OCD: THC, CBD, CBG
PTSD: THC, CBD, CBG
Stress: THC, CBD
ALS: THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN
Alzheimer’s: THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN
Epilepsy: CBD, THCV, CBN
Multiple Sclerosis: THC, CBD, CBN
Osteoporosis: CBD, CBG, THCV, CBC, CBN
Parkinson’s: THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN
Seizures: CBD, THCV, CBN
Spasticity: THC, CBD, CBG, CBN
Appetite Loss: THC
Anorexia: THC, CBD
Cachexia: THC, CBD
Crohn’s: THC, CBD
Diabetes: CBD, THCV
Gastrointestinal Disorders: THC, CBD
Nausea: THC, CBD
How to Get Cannabinoids in Your Life
Hemp-derived CBD has less than .3 percent THC and is legal in the U.S. As for THC, at the time of this article, medical cannabis is legal in 33 states and recreationally legal for adults over 21 in 11 states. To get a high-CBG product, CBG hemp flower is now available. We recommend Jack Frost CBG from The Hemp Haus. As for the CBC, THCV, and CBN, they are available in trace amounts in full spectrum CBD (try our Ananda Hemp or Puffin Hemp Liposomal at The Hemp Haus), but are not widely available as dominant-cannabinoid products. However, as the industry continues to grow, you can expect more high-THCV, high-CBC, and high-CBN products.
Remember, these cannabinoids come from plants (cannabis, hemp) that have been illegal to grow in our country for nearly a century. It was only after the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills that the U.S. has been able to produce cannabis products. It will take a little time for specific high-cannabinoid products to come online. However, The Hemp Haus is working with farmers and scientists that are working on just that. Sign up for our emails, so you can be among the first we spread to word to when we are able to make more of these cannabinoid all-stars available to you.
The Nature’s Breakthrough educational resource is just one of the ways The Hemp Haus practices its sincere commitment to and passion for educating people about CBD and helping them find the right, high-quality product based on their needs.