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Cannabinoids are a diverse set of chemical compounds that exist in three forms: 1) In the human body as ‘endocannabinoids’ (endo = within, internal); 2) In the cannabis plant as ‘phytocannabinoids’ (phyto = of a plant); and, 3) As synthetic cannabinoids, which are manufactured artificially. Before you learn about Cannabis' cannabinoids and how they work when introduced into the human body, it helps to first learn a little about the cannabinoids that are produced naturally in your own body and how they function within a larger system known as the Human Endocannabinoid System.
Endocannabinoids & Our ECS
In all humans and animals there exists at the molecular level a system that regulates a wide range of biological functions with the goal of ultimately creating balance, or homeostasis, and reducing inflammation. This system is called the "Endogenous Cannabinoid System (ECS)", more commonly referred to as the human "Endocannabinoid System".
Think of this Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in your body as a biochemical control system that has a lock-and-key design. The "locks" are the specific binding sites, known as "Cannabinoid Receptors", which are located on the surface of many cells. And the "keys" are specific types of fatty acids, referred to as "Endocannabinoids", that bind to these receptors, which then activate or unlock them. And just as only one particular key can open a lock, a specific cannabinoid receptor will only accept a particular endocannabinoid(s).
Scientists have discovered two types of cannabinoid receptors (i.e., the ECS' 'locks') in the human body:
-Type 1 Receptor, known as CB1-R
-Type 2 Receptor, known as CB2-R
The Type 1 CB1-R receptor was first discovered in the brain but is also located in many other organs, connective tissues, gonads and glands. The CB1-R receptor is involved in the coordination of movements, spatial orientation, sensory perceptions (taste, touch, smell, hearing), cognitive performance and motivation. The Type 1 CB2-R receptor is found in our immune systems and outside of the brain such as in the gut, spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands and reproductive organs.
In addition to these cannabis receptors, some cannabinoids and terpenes interact with many other types of non-cannabis G-protein-coupled receptors. For example, CBD interacts with a the TRPVI (Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid Type 1) receptor, which is known to mediate pain perception, inflammation and body temperature.
SIDEBAR: Don't be surprised if your physician is not aware of the Endocannabinoid System. This is relatively new science that is not taught in all medical schools even though it was one of the biggest discoveries in neuroscience in the 20th Century.
Cannabis' Cannabinoids & Our ECS
In simple terms, as with the endocannabinoids that occur naturally in our bodies, when we introduce cannabis' own naturally occurring cannabinoids (i.e., phytocannabinoids) into our bodies via a variety of delivery methods (e.g., smoking, eating, drinking) they can also mimic as well as counteract the effects of some endocannabinoids. Once you introduce these cannabinoids into your body, they then seek out and try to bind to those same Cannabinoid Receptors located in the brain and throughout the body.
When a cannabinoid causes a receptor (e.g., CB1-R, CB2-R, TRPV1) to act in the same way as it would to a naturally occurring endocannbinoid, then it is called an “agonist" cannabinoid. However, if the cannabinoid prevents the receptor from binding to the naturally occurring compound, thereby causing the resulting event (e.g., pain, appetite, alertness) to be altered or diminished, it is labeled “antagonist.” Research is ongoing in an effort to better understand how specific cannabinoids can unlock (or lock, in some cases) specific receptors.
TIP: For more technical information about the ECS, please see my learning document, How Cannabis Works As a Medicine.
Please click on a cannabinoid to learn more about it.
NOTE: There are at least 85 different possible cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. This is a partial list that includes the most commonly studied and influential cannabinoids.
In all my product reviews I've always provided cannabinoid-specific levels that I take from the products' testing labels. And as of 2017, I'm also including terpene-specific levels that I reference directly from the cannabis lab testing reports whenever I can obtain them. All of this cannabinoids and terpenes information may be helpful to you, but you're probably wondering how you can actually use this data in practical ways to better your health. Well, keep reading because I'm going to tell you.
The Entourage Effect
To reiterate what you just learned, scientific research now indicates strongly that cannabinoids and terpenes work better together. This complex interplay between terpenes and cannabinoids is referred to as the synergistic "Entourage Effect". The definition of this term has changed over the years, but the Entourage Effect essentially asserts that various combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes (and ideally, other compounds from the whole plant) are more therapeutically effective when working together, in synergy.
A Practical Example
With the Entourage Effect in mind, let's take an example to understand how you can use all this information in practical ways. Let's say that you had great success treating your muscle pain with the G6 strain and now you want to try something different that will give you similar relief and results. At this point, you should take a close look at the terpene and cannabinoid profiles for G6 and then find other strains that also offer very similar profiles. In this example, G6 has large quantities of THC, Beta-Myrcene and Limonene with a tad of CBD, which are all known for their strong pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. This indicates that these chemical compounds are very likely the most influential in helping to relieve your muscle pain. There is some trial-and-error involved, but you'll find leveraging cannabinoids and terpenes will result in less guesswork and ineffective purchases than just selecting your meds via some non-specific recommendations based on the general traits of Sativa or Indica.
By applying this process you can begin to identify and hone your own terpenes and cannabinoids profiles that are unique to you. You can start to pinpoint those very specific terpenes and cannabinoids that address your symptoms best. These profiles can act as your personal road map, so to speak, in your journey to better health with medical cannabis.
MORE RESOURCES: Consider using my Patient Medication Log to track your success and use as a reference. Don't forget to check out my Terpenes Library too! And I also have supplemental learning doc on cannabinoids that you may find interesting, Introduction to Cannabinoids and Terpenes.
This cannabinoids content is a new effort for 2017!
See the 'Cannabinoid List' section at the bottom of this page for a working list.