Cannabinoids work with our Endocannabinoid system (ECS). All humans have an Endocannabinoid system within our bodies, which is mainly responsible for regulating homeostasis. Simplified, this means that the ECS is in control of keeping balance within our internal system.
Within the endocannabinoid system are receptors, specifically known as the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Our CB1 receptors are present in the central nervous system and in certain peripheral tissues, mainly present in the brain and spinal cord. They are concentrated in brain regions associated with the behaviors they influence. Meanwhile, our CB2 receptors are heavily concentrated in immune cells. When activated, CB2 receptors work to reduce inflammation, as inflammation is an immune response. When consuming compounds from the cannabis plant, cannabinoids are able to affect key processes in our body, ranging from mood and memory to appetite and pain.
So let’s start with the most famous of them all, THC. THC, scientifically known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the compound that’s responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. THC activates our CB1 receptors, and as stated earlier, these receptors are heavily present within the brain and nervous system. Scientists are discovering that THC can do way more than just get you high. THC has been studied to help with a variety of ailments such as nausea, pain, and an appetite stimulant to name a few. Currently, THC is the most commonly utilized cannabinoid, but with scientists and researchers diving deeper into the cannabis plant, we are seeing there is much more to it.
Now let’s go to THCA. THCA, short for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is a cannabinoid that’s closely related to THC. The difference is that THCA is non-psychoactive. THCA does not activate CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the brain, therefore no “high” is produced. In order to make psychoactive THC from THCA, one needs to heat it. The process of heating THCA to convert it to psychoactive THC is called decarboxylation. In simpler terms, when THCA is heated via smoking or vaping, it removes the carboxylic acid (which stands for the A in THCA) leaving it to become THC. THCA is most commonly consumed in the form of raw juices and smoothies, considering the only way to utilize this compound is through raw cannabis.
Last but definitely not least is THCV, Tetrahydrocannabivarin, which is like a cousin of THC. Research is in its infancy stages and there is still a debate as to whether THCV is psychoactive. Some research has shown that when taken in low doses, it does not get you high. Research is also showing that when taken in high doses, the CB1 receptor is activated and produces a high. Unlike THC, THCV is said to actually suppress the appetite. Research has also shown possibilities in THCV to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance. In August 2011 a study showcased the antioxidant and neuroprotective properties of THCV, which could potentially delay the progression of Parkinson’s Disease and provide symptomatic relief. This can prove hopeful for those dealing with Parkinson’s, which currently has no cure. THCV is making its presence known as one of the most researched cannabinoids currently due to its potential health benefits.
As we continue to get to know this cannabis compound family, it’s ironic how a plant that was once shown as criminal is now bringing healing to so many people from all walks of life. With over 100 cannabinoids currently known in the plant, we are just touching the surface on what the cannabis plant has to offer.