Cannabinoids are natural chemical compounds found in the stalk, seed, and flowers of cannabis plants. Scientists have so far identified more than 85 of them. When a person consumes cannabis, these compounds interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system, eliciting a variety of effects.
Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
The ECS is a vital cellular signaling system that is responsible for regulating a person’s pain, appetite, mood, memory, and cellular life and death cycles. The system’s receptors, known as CB1 and CB2, are found in the brain and throughout the body’s nervous system. The cannabinoids that a person ingests when they consume cannabis react with these CB1 and CB2 receptors, which in turn help the endocannabinoid system in its efforts to regulate properly and achieve homeostasis.
The cannabinoids you get from cannabis are phytocannabinoids, meaning they come from plantlife. When the ECS is performing properly, it naturally produces endocannabinoids. Some research suggests that a condition referred to as “endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome,” in which the body does not generate enough endocannabinoids, could be the root cause of many autoimmune disorders, including migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and more.
The cannabinoids a person gets from cannabis therefore can supplement what the body is missing so that the ECS can better regulate body processes and encourage healing.
Please refer to the video below for a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the Endocannabinoid System:
The Major Cannabinoids: THC and CBD
The two best-known cannabinoids found in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, also known as CBD. THC is the cannabinoid most people think of when they think of cannabis because it’s responsible for the psychoactive effects and will cause users to experience a “high.” CBD is non-psychoactive, so it won’t cause a high and even counters the psychoactive properties of THC.
Different cannabis strains contain varying levels of cannabinoids. Some cannabis contains far more THC than CBD. Strains that contain less than 0.3% THC and an abundance of CBD are considered hemp.
The Entourage Effect: Compounds Working Together
Some researchers believe that cannabis is more therapeutically beneficial when all the compounds found in the plant — including its a wide range of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavinoids — are administered together. The theory known as the entourage effect suggests that all of the various chemical compounds in cannabis interact and work together synergistically to produce therapeutic benefits and regulatory effects.
The Therapeutic Effects of Cannabinoids: What Research Shows
Scientists are still learning about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and its cannabinoids. THC and CBD are the best-understood and most studied cannabinoids, but cannabinol (CBN) and cannabichromene (CBC) have also shown to have therapeutic values.
Below are summaries of each of the more well-known cannabinoids what we’ve learned so far about them from research:
THC is the most commonly known cannabinoid because it’s the psychotropic compound that produces the “high” that recreational cannabis users are seeking. While there is a risk of some negative side effects from THC, it is not possible to have a fatal overdose. Still, THC and cannabis are Schedule I controlled substances, which is a category of substances considered to be illegal according to the U.S. government.
You can only legally access THC if you are a registered medical cannabis patient in a state that has passed comprehensive medical cannabis legislation. Eight states have passed adult use cannabis laws and allow adults ages 21 and older to consume cannabis without a prescription or having to register with the stage.
Studies have found that THC is effective at managing nausea and vomiting, stimulating appetite, improving sleep, and providing pain relief.
THC has also demonstrated that it’s potentially beneficial for the treatment of the following diseases and disorders:
- Alzheimer’s Disease – THC effectively lower levels of amyloid-beta peptide, the hallmark characteristic and key contributor to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Research has also shown it also enhances mitochondrial function, suggesting that THC could be therapeutically beneficial in treating Alzheimer’s disease through multiple functions21.
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – In several animal trials, THC has shown to delay the onset of ALS, prolong the survival of neurons, and slow the disease’s progression once it has manifested14,22,102. THC also reduces the pain, appetite loss, depression, and drooling symptoms associated with the disease3.
- Anorexia – THC effectively stimulates hunger and increases pleasure when eating29. THC has also shown to increase average weight gain compared to a placebo4.
- Arnold-Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia – THC helps those with Arnold-Chiaro malformation and syringomyelia better manage the symptoms associated with their conditions. Studies have shown it significantly improves pain, sleep, and mood10,118,122.
- Arthritis – THC has shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties and efficacy at fighting inflammation of the joints46. In addition, THC helps manage pain caused by joint diseases18.
- Autism – THC has shown to significantly improve hyperactivity, lethargy, irritability, stereotypy, and inappropriate speech in an autistic child following regular treatments63. Additionally, THC’s activation of the CB2 receptors may be able to help restore neural communication and proper cell function43.
- Bone Health – THC’s activation of CB2 receptors stimulates bone formation and inhibits bone breakdown8.
- Cachexia – THC stimulates appetite in patients that have cachexia related to cancer56,89,90. It has also demonstrated to be effective at increasing appetite and stabilizing body weight in AIDS-cachexia patients11.
- Cancer – THC has shown to possess anti-cancer properties, even reducing tumor sizes in the brain108. It is also proven effective at reducing both conditioned rejection and chemotherapy-induced nausea, allowing chemotherapy patients to more comfortably undergo treatments71. When combined with CBD, THC significantly reduces pain levels in cancer patients with intractable pain58. In cancer patients experiencing cachexia, THC has shown to significantly stimulate appetite56,89,90.
- Crohn’s Disease / Irritable Bowel Syndrome – THC’s anti-inflammatory properties make it effective at combatting Crohn’s disease, even helping some patients achieve complete remission86. In addition, THC reduces the abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease105.
- Depression – THC has also been shown to decrease brain activity in response to negative stimuli, thereby helping to reduce the social withdrawal, apathy, inability to experience pleasure, and limited emotional expression associated with depression17.
- Diabetes – THC reduces glucose intolerance, improves glucose tolerance, and increases insulin sensitivity to reduce the risk of diabetes123. In human studies, cannabis use has been correlated to a lower prevalence of diabetes100.
- Leukemia – THC has been shown to kill leukemia cells99. Evidence also suggests that combining THC with other established cytotoxic agents further enhances leukemia cancer cell death72.
- Lupus – THC’s anti-inflammatory properties makes it beneficial for treating inflammatory disorders like lupus87. THC also assists in the management of pain commonly associated with inflammation-related diseases and disorders26.
- Migraines – THC effectively inhibits the pain response caused by migraines1,10,44.
- Multiple Sclerosis – THC effectively reduces the pain associated with multiple sclerosis and provides relief from MS-related spasticity9,66,106.
- Nail-Patella Syndrome – THC manages the pain associated with nail-patella syndrome10,85,97.
- Nausea – Studies have found that cannabinoids, including THC, are effective at controlling nausea, and can prevent the anticipatory nausea experienced by chemotherapy patients94.
- Obesity – The exposure to THC in cannabis smoke has found to be associated with a lower rate of obesity compared to non-cannabis users67.
- Pain – THC has been shown effective for lowering pain levels associated with a wide variety of conditions, including spasticity, headache, migraines, and other acute pain and chronic pain conditions10,57.
- Parkinson’s Disease – THC shown to help prevent damage caused by free radicals and that it activatesa receptor to encourage mitochondria formation, thus helping in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease132. In addition, smoking cannabis has shown to significantly improve motor disability and impairments, tremors, rigidity, bradykinesia, sleep and pain in Parkinson’s disease patients74.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Cannabis use has been shown to significantly reduce PTSD symptoms45. Users with PTSD experience better sleep and fewer nightmares13. Studies suggest that cannabis has the potential to dampen the strength and emotional impact of traumatic memories95. In addition, administering THC shortly after a traumatic event can help prevent the development of PTSD-like symptoms20.
- Sickle Cell Anemia – Cannabis and THC have proven effective at lowering pain associated with sickle-cell anemia61. In addition, THC’s anti-inflammatory properties can help minimize the vascular occlusion and tissue infarction commonly caused by the disorder111.
- Spasms – THC has shown effective for significantly improving muscle spasticity16,113.
- Spinal Cord Disease – Cannabis (THC) can improve the pain, sleeping problems, bladder control, spasticity, muscle twitching, and depression commonly associated with spinal cord diseases3,22. In addition, animal trials have demonstrated that cannabinoids can prolong the survival of neurons and slow the progression of spinal cord diseases14.
- Spinal Cord Injuries – THC has shown to reduce swelling and compression lesion volume, and help preserve white matter and myelin when administered shortly after a spinal cord injury6,48. It’s also been shown to improve locomotor functional recovery64.
- Traumatic Brain Injury – By interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, THC stimulates the release of minocycline, which reduces brain swelling and neurological impairment, and diffuses further injuries to the brain’s axons following a TBI73. In addition, one study found that when individuals have detectable levels of THC in their bloodstream, they are less likely to die as a result of a traumatic brain injury91.
While THC is the cannabinoid that gets most of the attention, the relatively recent monumental findings on the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) are finally giving the non-psychoactive compound its due shine.
Studies indicate that CBD safely and effectively reduces nausea and vomiting, suppresses seizure activity, combats psychosis disorders, contests inflammatory disorders, counters neurodegenerative disorders, fights tumor and cancer cells, and battles anxiety and depression disorders42,135. Because of these notable effects, CBD shows exciting potential as a treatment option for neuroinflammation disorders, epilepsy, oxidative injury, vomiting and nausea, and anxiety and schizophrenia42.
CBD has shown to potentially be beneficial for the treatment of the following diseases and disorders:
- Alzheimer’s Disease – CBD limits the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by blocking microglial activation, thus providing neuroprotection19,78,104. The combination of neuroprotective, anti-oxidative, and anti-apoptotic effects provided by CBD decreases the oxidative stress associated with Alzheimer’s disease54.
- Amytotraphic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – CBD can significantly slow the onset of ALS127. In addition, it can help reduce the pain, appetite loss, depression, sleeping problems, spasticity, and drooling that can are commonly associated with ALS3,22.
- Anxiety Disorder – CBD has effects on the limbic and paralimbic areas of the brain that reduce anxiety and significantly decreases subjective anxiety30. It’s also been shown to significantly reduce the anxiety, cognitive impairment, and discomfort associated with public speaking in individuals with Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)12.
- Arthritis – With its anti-inflammatory benefits and potent anti-arthritic effects that protect joints, CBD limits the progression of arthritis77.
- Bone Health – CBD enhances the maturation of collagen, the protein in the bone’s connective tissue that holds the bone together, to significantly improve the strength and the healing process of bones60.
- Cancer – CBD has shown to inhibit the progression of cancers located in the breast, lung, prostate and colon in animal models, suggesting it could also be effective at mediating cancer cell death in human subjects69,81,93. In one study, it inhibited human breast cancer cell proliferation and invasion, and decreased the gene expression in cancer cells, thus lowering the tumor’s aggressiveness and significantly reducing its size79. CBD acid (CBDA) has shown the capability of down-regulating invasive human brain cancer cells and therefore preventing their growth80,116.
- Cardiovascular Disease – CBD reduces myocardial dysfunction, cardiac fibrosis, oxidative-nitrative stress, inflammation, cell death, and interrelated signaling pathways, which collectively offer therapeutic benefits in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases101. In addition, administering CBD shortly after a heart attack has been shown to reduce infarct size and myocardial inflammation, thus showing potential as a treatment for myocardial ischemia37.
- Cirrhosis (Liver Disease) – Studies suggest that CBD helps combat the progression of cirrhosis by assisting in the death of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), which proliferate and produce excess collagen, causing the accumulation of scarring on the liver70. CBD has also been shown to restore liver function in mice experiencing liver failure7. In addition, CBD provides protection against ischemia reperfusion, the pivotal mechanism of tissue damage in cirrhosis, by reducing the force of key inflammatory pathways and oxidative/nitrative tissue injury84.
- Crohn’s Disease (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) – CBD encourages anti-inflammation of the digestive track by controlling the pro-inflammatory response caused by the disease33,40.
- Depression – CBD has demonstrated both antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects in animal models35,131.
- Diabetes – CBD has shown to significantly reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines in the bloodstream and the incidence of diabetes in non-obese mice125. It’s also been shown to be effective at curtailing the manifestations of the disease126. Research has found CBD treatments provide significant protection from diabetic retinopathy39.
- Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders – CBD has demonstrated the ability to reduce or even eliminate seizures15,36,107,114. Research also finds that cannabis is effective in the treatment of severe pediatric epilepsy disorders like Dravet syndrome, Doose syndrome, and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome98. CBD has also been shown to improve sleep (53%), alertness (71%), and mood (63%) in epileptic children50.
- Leukemia – CBD helps prevent complications that can occur after a leukemia patient receives a stem cell or bone marrow transplant129. In addition, it has been found to help cancer patients manage the nausea, vomiting, pain, and appetite suppression associated with traditional cancer treatments.
- Migraines – CBD is effective at reducing pain associated with a wide variety of conditions, including headache and migraines10<s/up>.
- Multiple Sclerosis – CBD combats the inflammation associated with multiple sclerosis, therefore providing neuroprotection and limiting the disease’s progression62,82. CBD effectively reduces the spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis28. In addition, it has demonstrated the ability to reduce the neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis9.
- Nausea – Studies have found that cannabinoids, including CBD, are effective at treating the more difficult to control symptoms of nausea, as well as preventing anticipatory nausea in chemotherapy patients94.
- Obesity – CBD has been shown to significant decrease body weight gain and reduce lipid levels53,112.
- Pain – CBD has been shown effective at lowering pain levels associated with a wide variety of conditions, including spasticity, headache, migraines, and other acute pain and chronic pain conditions10,57.
- Parkinson’s Disease – CBD has neuroprotective properties and supports the health of neural cells mitochondria, thus helping to prevent neurodegeneration32,42,134. Significant improvements in well being and quality of life scores were found in Parkinson’s disease patients undergoing CBD treatment25. CBD may help Parkinson’s disease patients experiencing psychosis134.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – CBD’s interaction with the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) modulates the release of neurotransmitter that increases a sense of pleasure and initiates alternation of memory processes13. CBD can also block the continuous retrieval of the traumatic event, thus enhancing its extension and reducing its associated anxiety2,95,117.
- Schizophrenia – CBD has anxiolytic and antipsychotic properties. Schizophrenia patients treated with CBD in trials have shown that CBD is a safe and well-tolerated alternative treatment for schizophrenia68,133.
- Sickle Cell Anemia – Cannabinoids have shown to be effective at helping curtail the severe pain associated with sickle cell disease49,61.
- Spinal Cord Disease – CBD improves bladder control, muscle spasms, and spasticity in patients with spinal cord diseases and damage121.
- Spinal Cord Injuries – When administered shortly after a spinal cord injury, CBD stimulates a neuroprotective response to limit damage6. CBD has shown to improve motor scores following a spinal cord injury64.
- Stroke – Administering CBD shortly after a stroke protects neurons and astrocytes from damage, and therefore leads to improved functional, histological, biochemical, and neurobehavior recovery65.
- Traumatic Brain Injury – CBD has shown to provide a neuroprotective effect and limit brain damage following a traumatic brain injury23,83,96.
We’re only just getting acquainted with cannabinol, or CBN. Studies suggest that it provides a variety of therapeutic benefits — most notably serving as an effective sleep aid.
CBN is the product of degradation, or oxidation, of THC. When THC is exposed to oxygen and heat, over time it breaks down to CBN, which is only mildly psychoactive.
While scientific research is significantly lacking compared to the more notable cannabinoids, evidence does suggest that CBN offers a variety of therapeutic benefits, including promoting sleep, stimulating appetite, encouraging bone growth, preventing glaucoma, and providing antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.
Research has so far shown CBN to be therapeutically beneficial in the following ways:
- Sleep aid – Of all the cannabinoids, CBN is the most sedative, making it a potential therapeutic option for those with insomnia, sleep apnea, or other sleep disorders. CBN and its derivatives have shown effective at significantly prolonging sleeping time in mice115,120,130. Research suggests that sleeping improvements are even greater when CBN is combined with THC59.
- Antibacterial – Evidence shows CBN could be an effective anti-bacterial. When applied topically, it was effective against MRSA5.
- Pain relief – CBN has shown to be effective at reducing sensitivity to pain by stimulating the release of calcitonin gene-related peptide from sensory nerves. This pain relief response is performed without interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, which suggests that CNB could provide even a stronger pain relief when used alongside CBD, which does lower pain through activation of the CB1 and CB2136.
- Anti-inflammatory – CBN has shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, suggesting it could assist in the treatment of inflammatory diseases and disorders like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, allergic asthma, and Crohn’s disease31.
- Appetite stimulant – CBN has shown to increase appetite, which suggests it could assist in the treatment of cachexia and anorexia, and help improve eating desires in those with cancer or HIV/AIDS41.
- Anti-convulsive – CBN has shown effective at significantly prolonging seizure latency in mice, suggesting it could assist in the treatment of epilepsy and other seizure disorders120,130.
- Prevents glaucoma – CBN, when administered topically, has shown to considerably lower ocular tension, thus reducing the risk and progression of glaucoma27.
- Bone stimulation – CBN is among the cannabinoids that are effective at stimulating bone growth51,52,92,110. As a result, CBN and other cannabinoids reduce the risk of osteoporosis and other bone diseases and support bone health.
Cannabichromene (CBC) is an often-overlooked cannabinoid found in cannabis. Despite being abundant in certain strains of cannabis, it’s the least studied of all major cannabinoids.
While CBC hasn’t demonstrated groundbreaking therapeutic benefits like THC or CBD, research shows that it does have pain relieving, antidepressant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, anti-anxiety, and bone and brain cell stimulating effects that can assist in the treatment of a variety of conditions.
Research has so far shown CBN may be therapeutically beneficial in the following ways:
- Pain reliever – CBC has shown to have pain-relieving properties. When combined with CBD, it demonstrated effectiveness at reducing sensitivity to pain76.
- Relieves symptoms of depression – CBC has shown to provide significant antidepressant-like effects when administered on its own, as well as when combined with THC38. In addition, CBC has shown to encourage new brain cell birth, in turn helping prevent the decline of growth in these cells, which is thought to contribute to disorders like depression109.
- Inhibits growth of fungus – CBC has demonstrated “strong” antibacterial and antifungal effects, showing it can fight against bacteria like E. coli and staph119.
- Relieves anxiety – CBC can reduce anxiety and stress levels. By interacting with CB1 receptors, CBC stimulates the release of natural chemicals that reduce the excitability of brain cells103.
- Reduces inflammation – CBC has demonstrated itself as an effective anti-inflammatory agent, suggesting it could assist with inflammatory-related conditions like arthritis or cardiovascular disease34,128. In mice, it’s shown to reduce inflammation of the gastrointestinal system, indicating that could help treat Crohn’s disease or other inflammatory bowel diseases55. Its anti-inflammatory properties are not caused by interacting with cannabinoid receptors, which means CBC could possibly be combined with other cannabinoid receptor-stimulating cannabinoids that to produce even greater anti-inflammatory effects55.
- Inhibits cancer growth – CBC has shown to help inhibit the uptake of anandamide, a human-produced endocannabinoid that has anti-cancer effects, allowing it to remain in the body’s system and work at fighting cancer. Cannabinoids like CBC have also shown inhibits the growth of cancerous tumors in mice, suggesting they may be used as a cancer chemopreventive agent in the future88.
- Promotes bone growth – Cannabinoids, like CBC, have shown to be effective at activating human osteoclasts, thus increasing bone density and reducing the risk of bone health conditions like osteoporosis124.
- Promotes growth of new brain cells – CBC has been shown to encourage neurogenesis (birth of new brain cells), an important process for memory and learning, and to increase the viability of developing brain cells. The decline of growth in these cells is thought to contribute to disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and depression109.
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