At this point, most people are familiar with THC and equate THC percentage to medical cannabis strength. In actuality, it's a combination of terpenes and cannabinoids such as CBD, THCA, and CBN which work together synergistically to provide various medicinal benefits. Without the joint effort, the magic of cannabis wouldn’t be possible.
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds from the cannabis flower which are responsible for creating the enumeration of medicinal benefits such as pain relief, anti-inflammation, and appetite stimulation.
Our body’s have what are known as endocannabinoid systems, more properly termed - endogenous cannabinoid systems. The endocannabinoid systems are found throughout the body in our brain, organs, connective tissue, glands, and immune cells. The goal of the endocannabinoid system is ultimately homeostasis, which essentially means internal balance. Cannabinoids promote homeostasis, and our body naturally produces them as endocannabinoids.
Researchers have pinpointed two cannabinoid receptor sites, the CB1 and CB2. The CB1 is predominantly present in the nervous system, connective tissues, gonads, glands, and organs; and the CB2, is predominantly found in the immune system and its associated structures. While our body naturally produces endocannabinoids, the cannabinoids found in the cannabis flower also stimulate these cannabinoid receptor sites. This stimulation in turn produces a number of physiological effects ranging from pain relief to sleep aid. It is believed that cannabinoid deficiencies lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms.
There are over 85 different types of cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Strains have been specifically designed and crossbred to produce stronger concentrations of various cannabinoids, such as Harlequin which is known for its high level of CBD.
It’s pertinent to become educated on the various kinds of cannabinoids so you know what kind of medication to look for. We’ve outlined some of the benefits you can expect from the better known cannabinoids, and what type of flower to look for.
THC is the best-known cannabinoid and is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis plants. THC also has a wide range of medical benefits and is commonly reported to relieve pain, nausea, PTSD, and depression - among many other things. Whereas most recreational drugs are neurotoxic, THC is considered a “neuroprotectant,” meaning that it can protect brain cells from damage caused by things such as inflammation and oxidative stress. While we urge you to take the entourage effect into consideration (cannabinoids working together for the desired effect), if you are looking for some heavy dosed THC strains check out Bruce Banner, Gorilla Glue #4, and Ghost Train Haze.
THCV is a psychoactive compound and is commonly known for its appetite suppression. You read that right, it can actually curb hunger! It is also known to help reduce panic attacks, stimulate bone growth, and it provides an energetic buzz. In addition, recent research suggests that this compound may be helpful in treating metabolic disorders including diabetes, and may even help with Alzheimer’s. Lab results show that THCV is most abundant in sativas, particularly landrace strains from Africa. Durban Poison is one of the more common high-THCV strains as well as Power Plant and Doug’s Varin.
Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA)
THCA is the most prominent compound in fresh, undried cannabis. When heated up, THCA decarboxylates, and becomes THC. While the compound does not have psychoactive effects in its own right, it does show promising benefits of being anti-inflammatory, anti-emetic, anti-proliferative, and having neuroprotective effects. There isn’t enough research on THCA to definitively state what it can treat and with what degree of efficacy, but preliminary research and anecdotal evidence suggest that THCA will play a pivotal role in cannabis medicine as the industry propels forward.
Cannabidiol has been identified as having the most therapeutic value of any of the cannabinoids and is non-psychoactive (it doesn’t get you “high”). Studies demonstrate cannabidiol to have anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-nausea, neuroprotective and pain-killing properties. It looks to be especially promising for conditions that are difficult to treat such as Crohn’s disease, PTSD, and multiple sclerosis, as well as Dravet’s Syndrome. Dravet’s Syndrome is an especially debilitating form of epilepsy that affects children and is notoriously resistant to current approved treatment methods. Some strains that are high in CBD are Charlotte’s Web, Harlequin, and Ringo's Gift.
CBDV is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has proven effective in treating neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and intractable (untreatable) childhood epilepsy. Similarly, CBDV has proven to be a powerful way to minimize the severity and duration of seizures resulting from many conditions. Like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBDV is also good at reducing nausea and vomiting. Because CBDV is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, it is often found in strains of cannabis that provide only trace amounts of THC such as Harlequin, Cannatonic, and ACDC.
Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)
CBDA is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Higher amounts have been seen in ruderalis strains and in recent hybrids like Cannatonic C-6 and ACDC, which have elevated levels of CBDA that are at potentially higher levels than THCA. Just like THCA, when heated up CBDA decarboxylates, as THCA becomes THC, so CBDA becomes CBD. While there hasn’t been much research done on CBDA yet, the research that has been done is quite promising. It appears to have antiemetic effects as well as anti-proliferative effects, making it ideal for fighting cancer. It also has been shown to be an anti-inflammatory and to possess antibacterial properties.
CBN is non-psychoactive and is generally attributed with a sedative effect. CBN is a product of THC degradation, so as THC oxides, it converts to CBN. Which means that cannabis that is left out, or old, has higher amounts of CBN. It’s studied benefits include pain relief, anti-insomnia, promoting growth of bone cells, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsive, and an appetite stimulant. The typical amount of CBN found in most samples of cannabis is less than 1%.
CBG is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Early results suggest it plays a role in fighting glaucoma symptoms, inflamed bowels, and potentially as treatment for bacterial infections like MRSA. It typically occurs in trace amounts in cannabis, and demonstrates promise as an anti-bacterial and anti-insomnia medicine. Certain strains of European hemp (which produces high CBD) can carry a genetic mutation that causes the “CBD-gene” to become inactive, and the plant accumulates CBG instead of CBD. While it may take some time, have confidence that CBG-only strains will soon be available.
CBC is perhaps the least understood cannabinoid, but potentially among the most important. It is believed to stimulate bone growth, fight bacteria and fungi, be anti-inflammatory, provide pain relief, fight depression, and it may even stimulate brain growth. CBC is most frequently found in tropical cannabis varieties such as Maui Waui, Island Sweet Skunk, and Tangie.
7 Proven Medical Benefits of THC. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.leafscience.com/2014/07/22/7-proven-medical-benefits-thc/
Sulak, D. (n.d.). NORML.org - Working to Reform Marijuana Laws. Retrieved from http://norml.org/library/item/introduction-to-the-endocannabinoid-system
"Cannabinoids 101: What Makes Cannabis Medicine?" Leafly. N.p., n.d. Web.