Cannabinoids, terpenes and chemicals in cannabis. How do they all work and what effects do they produce?
If you ask a group of people about the chemicals/cannabinoids in cannabis, most people would name THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and perhaps struggle to name many others. In fact cannabis contains hundreds of compounds. Most of these are cannabinoids or cannabinoid related compounds. But you will find dozens of terpenes, flavonoids and various other naturally occurring chemicals. Some of these are probably largely under-researched and may prove to be hugely important for future medical applications.
One of the difficulties for medical researchers is that cannabis, unlike traditional pharmaceutical medicines, contains a range of potentially active ingredients. Decades of prohibition have stifled research to the point that most of the cannabinoids have scarcely been researched. What’s more, little is known about how the cannabinoids and terpenes can amplify the effects of each other. This is known as the entourage effect, where the synergy of multiple cannabinoids acting together is greater than the sum of their individual effects. The ability for terpenes and cannabinoids to negate or amplify their respective medical effects is an added complication for medical researchers who re sed to studying just a single pharmaceutical compound (and the metabolites produced) when it is broken down inside the human body.
CBG. Cannabigerol, the mother cannabinoid and building block for all other cannabinoids
All the cannabinoids are naturally synthesised from a single starting point, which is cannabigerol also known as CBG or the ‘mother cannabinoid’. That’s one reason why there is a lot of interest in future CBG rich cannabis varieties. Dutch Passion continue to look at a possible future CBG rich cannabis seed variety. The process of bio-converting CBG into each of the other cannabinoids is a complicated scientific process shown in the diagram, above. Cannabinoid synthesis requires various enzymes, chemical pathways and conversion processes. This is all done automatically inside the cannabis plant. Different varieties produce different cannabinoids at varying levels. If you buy your feminized cannabis seeds from a good breeder you can select varieties rich in CBD or THC. Soon it is hoped that varieties rich in THCV and CBG will become available. Many people hope and believe that cannabinoids will one day be the basis of a new future medical approach. Perhaps cannaboids will be isolated and used as individual compounds. Or perhaps science will prove that cannabinoids work well together, complementing and even amplifying the medical effects of each other.
How do cannabinoid compounds work in the human body?
Remarkably, as recently as the 1980’s, the scientific world had no idea how cannabis actually affected the human body. Decades of prohibition and scientific neglect meant that no-one really knew why cannabis got you high. Nor did they know why cannabis was such a versatile and effective multipurpose medicine. People assumed that cannabis somehow interacted with cells and cell membranes and somehow that got you high. It was only the discovery of the human endocannabinoid system and the purpose designed cannabinoid receptors in the early 1990’s which began to explain the remarkable way that the body could use cannabis.
CB1 and CB2 cannabis receptors. How the human body reacts to cannabinoids and cannabis
The discovery of the human endo cannabinoid receptors in the 1990’s was a real breakthrough. For the first time there was a scientific explanation of how cannabis interacts with the human body. Instead of an imprecise theory that cannabis simply ‘affects’ cells, it was clear that receptors called the CB1 and CB2 receptors were designed specifically to connect to cannabinoid compounds which were present in the blood stream. What’s more mammals, fish, birds and reptiles also possess cannabis receptors. This suggests that cannabis may have played an important role in ancient history long before animal life forms diverged into separate types.
Are more cannabinoid receptors waiting to be discovered in the human body?
This research paper indicates that scientists may eventually announce the discovery of some previously unknown, new cannabinoid receptors. If so we can expect some new theories about how our bodies use/absorb cannabinoids and how the cannabinoids can be used for future medicines. Science still has much more work to do to fully understand the way the human body absorbs and responds to cannabis. It is quite possible that some basic cannabis receptors in the human body are simply waiting to be discovered. The scientific world still has many unanswered very basic questions about the way cannabis is used by the human body.
The main cannabinoids. THC, CBD, CBG, CBC & CBN
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is usually the most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis. It is often present in most cannabis varieties at levels of 10-20% in the dry buds and sometimes above in the very best quality cannabis seeds. When THC is exposed to air and light it breaks down into CBN (cannabinol). So CBN is a derivative of THC, it is thought to offer sedation and pain relief.
CBG, Cannabigerol, is the so-called mother cannabinoid used to synthesise all the other cannabinoids. Usually CBG is present in trace quantities in cannabis, often under 1%. It is attracting a great deal of medical interest currently.
CBD (Cannabidiol) has seen surprisingly mainstream popularity. It doesn't have strong psychoactive properties but many people use it for the perceived health benefits/pain relieving effects. CBD has been credited with bringing a huge amount of mainstream public attention to cannabinoids and their potential health benefits. In specially selected varieties, CBD can be around, or even above, 10% of the dry buds.
CBC (Cannabichromene) is another of the more frequently seen cannabinoids. Usually it is present in levels below 1% in the dried buds, but there is interest in future CBC rich varieties.
Terpenes and cannabis. Modulating the high
Terpenes are the organic aromatic compounds which help to give cannabis the deep and rich aromas. This Dutch Passion terpene blog explains more detail about the various terpenes and how they affect our cannabis experience. Many now believe that cannabis terpenes play an important role in modulating (or ‘steering’) the type of high produced by cannabis.
LED for improved cannabinoid and terpene profiles
Many of the most serious and professional growers have upgraded from HPS to LED lighting for cannabis production. LEDs have a purpose designed light spectrum and lower levels of heat production/heat stress compared to HPS. Cannabinoid and terpene levels are measurably higher. Its one of the main reasons that people switch their low cost, low performance HPS lights for professional quality LED.
What are cannabis flavonoids and what do they do?
One of the less well known groups of chemicals found in cannabis are called flavonoids. Although less well known than terpenes and cannabinoids, there are thought to be around 20 flavonoid compounds present in cannabis. Flavonoids are abundant in nature, found extensively in flowers and fruits. They often add colour to the plant, usually yellow pigments. But blue pigments are also present in the flavonoid family. This coloration is tough to help plants attract pollinating insects. Some of the flavonoids protect the plant by absorbing UV light. Others are thought to be important to facilitate symbiotic fungi or mycorrhyza action.
Lab work suggests some flavonoids may also offer unusual properties, such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, antibiotic, antidiarrheal and possibly even anti-cancer though much more serious research remains to be done. Usually the cannabis plant contains different types of flavonoid compounds including cannflavine A, cannflavine B, cannflavine C, apigenin, vitexin, kaempferol, isovitexin, luteolin, quercetin, and orientin. Cannaflavin A, B & C are unique to cannabis. In total flavonoids comprise around 2-3% of the total dry mass of the plant. None are found in the root system. Cannabis flavonoids are one of the least understood areas of cannabis chemistry, but that is changing fast. In coming years much more will be discovered about flavonoid composition and effects in cannabis.
Choosing the best cannabis seeds
The most experienced seed companies offer you a selection of cannabis cup winning, proven varieties which will be easy to grow and deliver potent heavy harvests. You can choose THC or CBD rich crops. Soon you will be able to select varieties rich in new cannabinoids. The best cannabis seeds cost only a euro or two more than budget cannabis seeds and can be relied on to deliver high quality results. Choose the best cannabis seeds you can from a seed company you can trust. Enjoy growing your own cannabis!