Cannabis has nearly 500 natural components including flavonoids, terpenes, and cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are unique to cannabis (and the endocannabinoid system). Cannabinoids are of particular interest to scientists because many can work independently or synergistically (called the “entourage effect”) to produce therapeutic effects. However, most cannabinoids are not well understood.
The most studied cannabinoids are THC and CBD, which are also the most prominent cannabinoids in the plant. Just one cannabinoid — THC — produces both therapeutic and psychotropic effects (meaning it can “heal” you and get you “high”).
Although research will continue to shed light on the therapeutic value of cannabinoids, from a clinical perspective, the following five are some of the most interesting:
THC (∆9-Tetrahydrocannabinol): THC, of course, is known for producing the high associated with cannabis, but is also therapeutically versatile. Clinical studies confirm THC plays a powerful role in help managing pain (particularly neuropathic pain) as well as symptoms commonly accompanying cancer and HIV/AIDS. Accumulating evidence suggests in low doses, THC is a neuroprotectant and has demonstrated promise as a potential treatment for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. Studies also suggest that THC plays a key role in promoting extinction of traumatic memories making it particularly useful in the treatment of PTSD.
Cannabidiol (CBD): In the eyes of many, the second most prominent cannabinoid in cannabis — CBD — has emerged as a “wonder compound.” Not only does CBD provide a broad spectrum of therapeutic versatility, unlike THC, it doesn’t produce significant psychotropic effects (aka “a high”).
Accumulating research suggests CBD may be a powerful anti-anxiety agent and potentially a fast-acting mood-boosting antidepressant. Moreover, it appears to interact synergistically with THC by amplifying therapeutic effects, while counteracting potential adverse effects. Studies also suggest CBD is an anti-inflammatory and anti-psychotic drug.
But, wait — there’s more! Not to sound like a pitchman for an ginsu knives infomercial, but CBD is proving to be an amazing compound! In fact, it’s in the drug development process to approved as a treatment for epilepsy and Dravet syndrome (under the brand Epidiolex), and a mounting body of studies suggest it’s effective at treating a wide spectrum of anxiety-related disorders, chronic pain, psychosis, and even diabetes.
Perplexingly, many breeders have crossed plants to increase THC levels at the expense of CBD. This is unfortunate, because the two act like a Yin and Yang. Fortunately, consumers have are getting more savvy and starting realize CBD is a remarkable cannabinoid that they want in their cannabis. And, now we’re seeing high-CBD strains like AC/DC, Harlequin and Cannatonic increase in popularity.
Cannabichromene (CBC): Everyone has heard of THC, while more and more people are discovering CBD. However, CBC, is lesser known, with some people suggesting it may be the next “big thing.” Like CBD, it is non-psychoactive, and evidence suggests it produces some powerful therapeutic effects including neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and anti-depressant features. Research suggests that while effective on its own, it works it's real magic in concert with other cannabinoids like THC, CBD and CBG.
Cannabinol (CBN): CBN, recognized for its sedative properties, is emerging as the cannabinoid that to treat insomnia and sleep issues. With early research suggesting it may promote bone growth, it may also prove effective as a treatment for osteoporosis or to aid recovery from broken bones.
However, you won’t find too many strains that are high in CBN at your dispensary, because CBN increases as the flower is exposed to light. So if you’ve got some flower hanging around that hasn’t been stored very well, it may very well have high CBN content.
Cannabigerol (CBG): CBG is another minor cannabinoid that is generating a lot of interest, although research is still in its infancy. CBG seems to share some similarities with CBD in that it may temper some of the potentially adverse effects of THC (like paranoia) and it seems to work synergistically other cannabinoids. Also, as a GABA inhibitor, it could reduce stress and anxiety. Interestingly, industrial hemp strains are richer in CBG than medicinal strains. However, breeders are starting to create strains with higher CBG content.
Research on some of the other cannabinoids like THCa, THCv, CBDa, and CBDv, are demonstrating promise as potential therapeutic agents. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Cannabis is a complex plant with over 100 identified cannabinoids, most of which we’ve not studied rigorously. As research in the cannabis field continues to blossom, it will be exciting to learn how all these other cannabinoids work and how they could be beneficial.