Understanding Cannabis: What Are Cannabinoids?
The capabilities of cannabis are the result of the plant's sophisticated chemical compounds. In both the recreational and medicinal markets, cannabinoids are responsible for providing the myriad effects that cannabis products are known for. The only difference between the two markets is the ratio and concentration of those cannabinoids.
While THC and CBD may be the most commonly cited cannabinoids, there are thought to be over a hundred of these compounds, each with its own unique capabilities. Keep reading to find out the importance of cannabinoids, how they work, and how companies who extract cannabinoids choose to specialise.
Cannabinoids are not visible to the naked eye. Instead, we need to put the cannabis or hemp plant under a microscope to see the various chemical compounds. Cannabinoids are made up of several molecules, and are not only found in marijuana or hemp, but a selection of other plant species too. Cannabis has gained distinction for its cannabinoids because of the vast concentration and range that it produces.
While it is believed that over a hundred cannabinoids exist within cannabis, scientists have only managed to isolate and study several dozen. Most people are aware of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), but other prominent cannabinoids include cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabigerol (CBG).
While THC is known for its psychotropic effects, many of the remaining cannabinoids do not possess the same abilities. Instead, they are favoured for their therapeutic benefits, and research suggests that cannabinoids may be useful in treating a whole host of conditions and diseases. The capability of cannabinoids rests on their unique ability to interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system.
Humans (and most mammals) have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). While we will cover off the endocannabinoid system in more detail later on in this series, the core principle is as follows.
The endocannabinoid system is found throughout parts of the brain, major organs, and the immune and central nervous systems. Attached to the endocannabinoid system are dozens of receptors that are activated by specific chemical compounds—cannabinoids. When cannabinoids interact with these receptors, they trigger a reaction from the endocannabinoid system, although this reaction varies greatly depending on both the type of receptor and its location in the body.
It is for this reason that cannabinoids are being studied for their medicinal benefit. It is believed that the natural reaction they invoke could be used to help treat cancer, Parkinson's, skin conditions, chronic pain, depression, and much more.
The easiest way to imagine cannabinoids is as a vast family tree. Each node is a different cannabinoid, and each branch signifies a specific modifier. At the top of the family tree would be the cannabinoid CBGA—this is the grandfather of all cannabinoids. From CBGA, three possibilities exist. These three branches represent an interaction between CBGA and specific enzymes to create THCA, CBDA, and CBCA. Continue down the family tree, and you eventually end up at the previously mentioned THC, CBD, and CBC.
As a cannabis plant grows, is exposed to sunlight, heat, or the atmosphere, the scope and range of these interactions or possible “branches” increases. While it would take dozens of articles to explain how every single cannabinoid is created, a young cannabis plant will have different ratios of cannabinoids compared to a mature plant. Even once a mature cannabis plant has been harvested, the ratio of cannabinoids continues to change.
This is both the beauty and the difficulty of cannabis. Companies looking to extract specific cannabinoids need to know when and how their chosen compound will exist in its highest concentration. Some cannabinoids only exist in a young seedling, while others can only be extracted once dried and cured buds have been left to age.
The critical point of cannabinoids is their ability to catalyse a range of biological reactions when consumed by humans. Depending on the market, companies will need to utilise different cannabinoids, or cannabinoids in various ratios, to achieve the desired effect. In the recreational market, a focus on higher levels of THC is favoured because of its impact on cognition and appetite. In a medical scenario, THC may still be present, but at a lower rate compared to CBD.
Companies that specialise in extracting the non-psychotropic cannabinoids will have an easier time conducting research. This is merely down to the legality of cannabinoids, and not a reflection on their potential uses. Extracting cannabinoids also requires highly specialised equipment and in-depth knowledge. Ensure when building your portfolio that a company has proven its capability in this respect. The quality of a product and the purity of extraction play an integral part in the effectiveness of any cannabinoid-based products or services.
Finally, the scope of cannabinoids is consistently evolving. Therefore, it is sensible to keep up-to-date with any significant developments. This will help narrow down any investment choices and improve the likelihood of a successful return. As the legal cannabis market continues to grow, companies will need to stay at the forefront of any scientific developments to secure market share.