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Cannabis 101

The Importance of Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids (pronounced can-a-bin-oyds) is the general term for the natural compounds produced only in hemp and cannabis. Caffeine is a good example of another, naturally occurring compound, that also has an effect on humans; in fact, coffee and green tea both have measurable amounts of caffeine, but most people feel the caffeine content in coffee more acutely. In this analogy, hemp would be the green tea of the cannabis world and cannabis, the double (or triple!) shot espresso. Technically, both contain cannabinoids, including the intoxicating cannabinoid THC, but most people don’t feel the THC in hemp, because it is in such low quantities.

There are hundreds of cannabinoids, so many, in fact, that science is only just starting to discover all of the different cannabinoid qualities and effects on the human body. When multiple cannabinoids are present, such as in dried cannabis flower, the feeling experienced by consumers is often referred to as the ‘entourage effect’. Keep reading to better understand this effect, at a chemical level. 

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There are three main types of medicinal cannabinoid uses:
● Synthetic cannabinoids – which are artificially created.
● Phytocannabinoids – derived from nature and found in cannabis. These molecules modulate the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), much like THC and CBD. Other minor phytocannabinoids include cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), amongst others, all of which play a unique role in the ECS.
● Endogenous cannabinoids (or endocannabinoids, for short) – occur naturally in our bodies. The endocannabinoids our bodies produce are anandamide (referred to as the bliss molecule) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which are released when our ECS is unbalanced, to bring us back to a state of homeostasis. Phytocannabinoids do much the same, by imitating that of endocannabinoids. Both phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids stimulate 5-HT1A, along with TRP-V receptors, known for their release of serotonin, in addition to CB1 and CB2 receptors.
A combination of these compounds exists in our brain, organs, immune system and glands and monitor mood, movement, sleep, metabolism and other vital bodily functions, contributing to the phenomenon referred to as ‘the entourage effect’ (which we’ll explain soon).

Cannabinoids and our Endocannabinoid System
All mammals, fish, birds and reptiles have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). It’s the complex system that helps regulate many physiological processes and, these systems are so similar that, even dogs can get relaxed from cannabinoids, like CBD. Even without having ever tried cannabis, our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids and, some scientists speculate that, the effect of this on our ECS accounts for the ‘runners high, experienced by athletes and the relaxing effect of hops (which also contain cannabinoids), when drinking beer. The little receptors that make up the ECS exist throughout our body but are found in higher concentrations in the brain cortex, cerebellum, basal ganglia, hippocampus, spinal cord and peripheral nerves.

How does the ECS work?

The interaction between cannabinoids and our ECS system is very complex. Simply put, the ECS is made up of two different kinds of receptors, CB1 and CB2, that, essentially, ‘catch’ cannabinoids. These are the most common receptors found in humans and other mammals. CB2 receptors live in your body, where CB1 receptors live in your tissues and cells, but mostly within your brain and central nervous system (CNS). When consumed, THC binds to CB1 receptors, creating a ‘high’ feeling, but even cannabinoids that don’t bind to CB1 receptors, or deliver a ‘high’, can still have medical advantages. Everyone has different amounts of these receptors within their body, which accounts for why cannabis affects everyone differently.

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Compared to CB1 receptors, CB2 receptors have a more considerable influence on the immune system and gastro tract and the results of cannabinoids binding to these receptors can lead to feelings of euphoria, altered pain sensations and reduction of panic and paranoia. Both CB1 and CB2 receptors are responsible for regulating emotions, fear, movement, motivation and much more, including:
• Anxiety and depression
• Appetite and food intake
• Immune modulation
• Nausea
• The cardiovascular system
• Liver function and
• Fertility regulation
The ECS helps modulate CB1 and CB2 receptors, by releasing naturally occurring endocannabinoid molecules, to interact with the ECS. This can help ease problems and restore balance, when something is out of whack with any of the systems mentioned above.

Terpenes and the ‘Entourage Effect’

Terpenes are naturally occurring essential oils and the glue that bind cannabinoids, from the cannabis plant, to CB receptors in your body. They play a vital role in user experience and are important to take into consideration when exploring the ‘entourage effect’ and different user responses.

Get ready – this is where we talk more about plant sex! Like many plants, if a female cannabis plant wants to reproduce, it must catch pollen from a pollen-producing hemp plant, passed on by a bee, or the wind. To help achieve this, cannabis plants create a sticky little compound called a terpene. This organic compound, also present in conifers and hops, has the main task of smelling great and attracting bees. Terpenes are what gives cannabis its aroma and, along with cannabinoids like THC, are another contributor to the intoxicating effect.

When you group all of the chemical features of the cannabis plant together, including terpenes, the combined result they have on consumers is often referred to as the “entourage effect”. This term explains how THC, CBD and other naturally occurring compounds are all equally responsible for the differences within each plant’s chemovar and, in turn, the sensations experienced by consumers. When studied together, they produce a more complex response than individually and show that terpenes can provide additional benefits that other phytocannabinoids do not.

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As cannabis research continues, there is increasing interest in looking into each strain’s biochemistry and the potential to maximize medicinal benefits. Researchers have found that plant varietals differ due to several factors, including:
• Cultivation practices
• Terpenoid content and
• Genetics
In many cases, recognizing the importance of terpenes is vital in beginning to understand the elaborate genetic makeup of each plant strain. According to An Introduction to Terpenes Science & Cultivation, published in 2018, there have been over 50,000 terpenoids discovered globally, in plants alone, with over 250 non-cannabinoid terpenoids and anywhere from 145-150 cannabinoid terpenes that occur in cannabis.

Different Terpenes

There are over a hundred cannabis specific terpenes and each has ability to alter user experience, dependent on their reaction to the terpene profile, which can drastically change based on their ECS configuration. Some common terpenes that are found in both cannabis and other plant life are:

  • Beta-Caryophyllene
  • Linalool
  • Humulene
  • Pinene
  • Linalool
  • Myrcene

All terpenes can contribute greatly to the overall reaction user may have to a cannabis strain and psychological response is thought to be enhanced by each specific terpene and the way it interacts with your ECS. For example, beta-caryophyllene is a terpene that co-exists in both cannabis and black pepper and has been shown to interact with the CB2 receptor, by providing relief from inflammation, in similar ways as CBD.

Another common terpene that, potentially, aids the entourage effect is linalool, also found in lavender. Linalool has shown immense potential in curbing symptoms of anxiety, including possessing sedative properties and antidepressant abilities, as well as demonstrated potential for immune-boosting benefits.

Understanding the way that terpenes can alter experience will only aid in cannabis experimentation. When exploring medicinal benefits of cannabis, users could, conceivably, focus on specific terpenes that they’ve identified as working well with their own ECS and utilize the benefits of these, by creating tailored, holistic routines. Taking both terpene content and phytocannabinoids into consideration, will help maximize the medicinal properties of varying strains of cannabis.

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