Cannabinoids are the natural substances found within cannabis, also called marijuana, that are responsible for the various effects that cannabis has on the human body. The plant is made from over 500 distinct compounds, and about 85 of them are cannabinoids. Several of these substances are directly responsible for the psychoactive element associated with ingesting cannabis, but others have no such effect on the nervous system.
The Endocannabinoid System
The reason why these substances found in cannabis have such an effect on the human brain and nervous system is that humans already possess a natural biological system that can process and react to cannabiniods. This is because the human body actually produces cannabinoids of its own. It only produces the substances in small doses, and the human-derived substances aren’t as potent as some of the cannabinoids found in cannabis, but the important thing is that the human body has receptors that can react with these substances.
The endocannabinoid system has many different responsibilities, including the regulation of sleep, emotion, appetite, and movement. The connection between cannabis and the human body wasn’t discovered until the early 1990s thanks to the stigma around cannabis and how difficult it is to legally study the plant. By the time the endocannabinoid system was discovered in humans, cannabis was already a well-documented psychoactive element. That’s why the system is named after cannabis.
There are two cannabinoid receptors that scientists know of in the human body. They are CB1 receptors, which are located in nerve tissue, and CB2 receptors, which are found in the lymphatic system.
Most Notable Cannabinoids
The two most commonly discussed cannabiniods are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is responsible for the buzzed sensation one feels after consuming cannabis in one form or another. THC attaches to CB1 receptors in the brain and nervous system, which reduces reaction time, affects memory, and impairs judgement. There are preliminary studies that show THC has potent medical qualities as well, including pain relief and appetite improvement for those suffering from nausea. Cannabis is often purposefully grown with high levels of THC since that is the largest factor in demand by the market.
CBD is a completely different substance than THC. It has no psychoactive effect, which means it won’t make a person ‘high’. In fact, studies have shown that THC taken with CBD actually has a reduced psychoactive effect. CBD is believed to have many nearly miraculous health benefits, including the ability to protect brain cells from damage or inflammation. There is even evidence that CBD can be used treat certain mental conditions like schizophrenia and epilepsy since it acts to quiet the nervous system, which has become overly active in these conditions.
Cannabinoids can be taken individually, but there is strong anecdotal evidence that suggests their natural form within the cannabis plant itself is already the ideal balance of the cannabinoids. Their combined effect is far greater than the effect of one single compound.