Well, it’s mostly down to the many active chemical compounds that the plant produces. These chemicals are called cannabinoids, and it’s these cannabinoids and their specific ratios that, when smoked or ingested, make this fast-growing weed so effective at treating so many ailments.
What are cannabinoids?
The technical name for these plant-based molecules is actually “phytocannabinoid”, with the prefix ‘phyto’ meaning ‘from plants’ – a distinction that has to be made as not all cannabinoids do come from plants.
You see, the reason cannabinoids from cannabis have such a profound effect on the human body is because we have cannabinoid receptors within us all. These receptors are found throughout our bodies – in the central nervous system, immune system and especially in the brain – and make up what is known as the endocannabinoid system (or the ECS).
That’s right, humans, as well as many other animals, naturally make their own cannabinoids, and we call them endocannabinoids. In fact, these naturally produced cannabinoids are essential in maintaining our health. Whether it be our mood, digestion, sleep patterns, hormone levels or pain perception, cannabinoids and the ECS play a vital role in many bodily functions.
This goes some way to explaining why cannabis is so effective at treating such a huge number of conditions. However, we are only just really getting to grips with each cannabinoid’s properties, effects and uses.
That’s because, due to many years of prohibition, research hasn’t been able to look very far past the major cannabinoids, THC and CBD. And considering that there are at least 113 different cannabinoids in cannabis (that we have found so far), with each exhibiting varied effects (individually and in conjunction with other cannabinoids), we still have some way to go before we truly get a glimpse of the full potential of this wonder plant.
To put it into perspective, the ECS was only discovered in 1992, showing just how young cannabis research is.
We have much to learn, not just about cannabis and cannabinoids, but about the human body itself.
The primary cannabinoids
Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) is the most famous cannabinoid, and many people’s favourite for that matter.
As the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, THC is responsible for the ‘high’ commonly associated with cannabis, as well as the increase in appetite (or the ‘munchies’), short-term memory problems and the blood-shot eyes that users experience. Basically, almost every ‘stoner’ stereotype is down to this cannabinoid.
THC is also the most well-researched cannabinoid. Studies have shown THC to be useful in treating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, cancer, and Crohn’s disease, to name but a few.
The relatively new kid on the block, cannabidiol (or CBD) has been stealing the headlines as of late for its efficacy in treating severe forms of epilepsy in children. It is the second most plentiful cannabinoid in cannabis behind THC – although unlike THC, it is not psychoactive, meaning it causes no ‘high’, yet still provides a myriad of health benefits. This makes it a far more attractive medicine to those who do not desire the psychoactive effects which cannabis use has been married to for so long.
Over recent years, much research has focused on this far more accessible compound. It has been found that CBD has antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic (anxiety relieving), analgesic (pain relieving), anti-cancer, and neuroprotective properties. It can also help to counteract some of the psychoactive effects of THC, such as paranoia and anxiety.
Lesser known cannabinoids
Cannabichromene (or CBC) is the third most common cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. Like CBD, CBC is also non-psychoactive while still providing many therapeutic benefits. Research has found CBC to be anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, antifungal, an anticancer agent, and may even promote the growth of new brain cells.
Cannabinol (or CBN), appears as a result of THCa (the acidic precursor to THC) breaking down over time. CBN has been found to be an appetite stimulant, an antibiotic, analgesic, antiasthmatic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-insomnia.
Tetrahydrocannabivarin (or THCv) works best when administered alongside THC, with some studies showing that THCv can actually mitigate some of the negative psychoactive impacts of THC. It has been shown to be antiepileptic, neuroprotective, and a bone stimulant.
Research into cannabidivarin (or CBDv) is young but extremely promising. CBDv is a slightly degraded version of CBD, and it offers antiepileptic, antiemetic (nausea relieving), and bone stimulating properties.
Cannabigerol (or CBG) is perhaps less well-known than many of the previously mentioned cannabinoids despite it also offering a significant amount of medicinal benefit. A non-psychoactive cannabinoid, CBG, which is fairly prominent in hemp (low-THC cannabis mostly grown for industrial purpose), has been found to be a painkiller, an anti-cancer agent, and an anti-depressant.
It is also among the group of cannabinoids, along with THCV, CBDV, and CBC, to promote bone health. Additionally, CBG, just like CBD, also seems to counteract the uncomfortable effects of THC.
Special attention must be given to CBG-A as it’s the universal acidic precursor of many other cannabinoids, including all of those mentioned above. In fact, if cannabis had no CBG-A, it wouldn’t come close to offering the medicinal and recreational value that cannabis is famed for.
Targeting conditions with cannabinoids
With all this new research unveiling a clearer picture of how cannabis works to assist with so many diseases, it opens doors for targeting conditions with accurate doses of cannabinoids that have been selected for specific purposes.
Rather like how a laser focuses light to increase its power, by intelligently targeting a disease with specific cannabinoids, cannabis as a medicine could become more effective with less scattered results.
There is still plenty to learn, however. Especially considering the fact that many cannabinoids seem to work synergistically with each other. And that’s not even to mention terpenes – the fragrant oils that give cannabis its various aromas – which have also been shown to be health-promoting, even showing anti-cancer and anti-tumor properties
The value of different cannabinoids is also starting to be recognized by growers and patients alike, with increasing numbers of producers working to breed new strains with varying levels of different cannabinoids – as opposed to just maximizing THC content, which has been the aim of cannabis cultivation for a long time.
While the chemistry of cannabis can somewhat overwhelming, until a lot more research has been conducted, a base knowledge of the main cannabinoids can be extremely helpful when it comes to deciding what strain (and, therefore, which cannabinoids) you will consume.
2. Cannatech News: Are Cannabis Effects Different For Men And Women?
Early clinical evidence of how cannabis affects women – and explanations for the same – is just as intriguing as it is for men. Furthermore, it also appears that not only do cannabinoids have different impacts on male and female bodies, but the biggest reason for that is the impact of cannabinoids on hormones and hormone secretions throughout the body, starting with sex hormones.
Rather unsurprisingly, as a result, both CB1 and CB2 endocannabinoid receptors are found in all female reproductive organs. As an organ, the uterus can also tolerate the highest levels of anandamide in the entire body.
(Anandamide is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that binds to the THC receptors. It’s been called the “bliss molecule,” aptly named after ananda, the Sanskrit word for “joy, bliss, or happiness.”
It is considered an endocannabinoid — a substance produced in the body that binds to cannabinoid receptors).
Not only can the uterus handle more of the bliss chemical than the brain, but at times, this organ has more than 100 times the amount of anandamide than the brain during ovulation. Several studies have already found a direct correlation between the strength of endocannabinoid signalling and regulation of human embryo implantation if not the ability to maintain the pregnancy itself.
Further, oestrogen levels are tightly linked to anandamide levels. When natural oestrogen levels are low, so are anandamide levels, leading to symptoms frequently described as “PMS.” These include symptoms like change in mood, bloating and pain. Craving fatty foods is another by-product of this. Cannabis is very good for treating this as well as Dysmenorrhea – severe period pain suffered by about 20% of women. The impact of being able to better stabilize menstruation-related symptoms, not to mention increase fertility rates (including in older or other at-risk women) cannot be understated or ignored.
Closely linked to hormone regulation in terms of overall body health maintenance is metabolism. The impact on blood sugar and diabetes is also critical for a longer term application to women’s health. As is the positive impact of cannabis use on BMI. While it is still unclear why a drug that can cause the so-called “munchies” in some people can also cause others to actually lose weight, there are already clues in the emerging literature.
When other environmental stressors are accounted for (including pain, depression, anxiety) plus in some cases, other lifestyle changes including exercise, this apparent dichotomy begins to make sense. However, there is also significant evidence that cannabinoids can impact other factors that also impact appetite – starting with leptin levels. The extreme absence of leptin can lead to food intake that ends with obesity (in other words, low levels of leptin impact the feeding and satiety switches in the brain).
Finally, as much as cannabis is becoming seen as a tool for preventive medicine, it is also establishing itself as a vital part of the medicine cabinet against chronic illness for some.
This starts with many different kinds of cancer, including of course breast-cancer, the number one form of cancer for women world-wide. In fact, numerous studies have shown that cannabinoid receptors appear to be greater in the tumor cells of certain kinds of cancers – including liver, lung, prostate and breast cancer. This may also mean that the endocannabinoid system in the body responds automatically this way to help the body fight certain kinds of cancers specifically.
Finally, it appears that cannabinoids can help prevent the spread of cancerous cells to other organs (a process called metastasis). Even more stunningly, studies are beginning to link CBD specifically to the ability to halt the spread of breast cancer. A recent study in the Journal of Natural Medicine has also now linked CBDA found in the fibre of cannabis plants, to be highly effective against cancer metastasis, including aggressive breast cancer.
There is no question that cannabis affects men and women in very different ways.
What is not known, and what needs plenty more research, is the specific benefits cannabis could provide for gender-specific health issues.