Knowing the science behind the cannabis plant is not only important, but fascinating! You may recall our recent post about cannabinoids being a potential treatment option for chemotherapy-induced hearing loss, which made me feel like a 101 on cannabinoids was in order.
Cannabinoids are complex chemical compounds that are secreted by the cannabis plant through its flowers that mimic naturally occurring compounds produced by our bodies, called endocannabinoids. When cannabis is consumed, the cannabinoids bind to receptor sites throughout our brain and body (CB-1 and CB-2 respectively), with a wide variety of effects possible depending on the cannabinoid profile present in a given strain.
The "simplest" description of the effects of marijuana in humans is that it modulates the regulation of homeostasis. Homeostasis is a process that keeps various systems in the body in relative balance. The balance between inhibition and excitation, bone formation and resorption, inflammatory/anti-inflammatory signaling, fat storage and release, blood sugar, blood pressure, hormone levels; all these systems are held in balance by the endocannabinoid system. This system, though involved in maintaining nearly every biological process in all humans, wasn't discovered until the 1980's.
Research revealed that the human body contains not only receptors for cannabinoids, but an entire endocannabinoid system that processes cannabinoids. This system allows the body to benefit from the cannabinoids found in cannabis, some of which aren't found anywhere else in nature. The endocannabinoid system regulates many of the functions of the human body: appetite, food intake, motor behavior, reproduction and much more.
At least 85 different cannabinoids have been isolated from the cannabis plant. For years THC has been described as the primary compound in cannabis due to it's famous psychoactive effects, but recent research has identified many other important cannabinoids, each linked with specific medicinal effects. During prohibition (the last 80 years), cannabis has been primarily bred to increase THC content to increase the altering effect of the plant, as demanded by the black market. Now that things are changing, other cannabinoids are reaching the medical spotlight and strains are being bred to increase their presence.
Read more about cannabinoids and get an overview of the 4 major cannabinoids that are supported by a solid body of research at this time here: