Author: Luke Sholl
About the author
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With over a decade of experience writing about CBD and cannabinoids, Luke is an established journalist working as the lead writer for Cibdol and other cannabinoid publications. Committed to presenting factual, evidence-based content, his fascination with CBD also extends to fitness, nutrition, and disease prevention.
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What are cannabinoids?

What are cannabinoids?

At first glance, cannabinoids may seem like an alien topic. But, as you'll discover, this expansive family of compounds is not only pretty straightforward, but packed full of possibilities. Keep reading to find out more.

What are cannabinoids, exactly?

Cannabinoids are organic compounds found inside a variety of plants. The highest concentration, however, exists inside strains of hemp and marijuana. Both are members of the Cannabis sativa species, but it is hemp that features an abundance of cannabinoids while also being legal to cultivate.

In hemp, cannabinoids perform a supportive role, working behind the scenes to attract pollinators, prevent insect predators from attacking, and help the plant adapt to its environment. But, this isn't all they can do. What makes cannabinoids unique is what happens when humans consume them.

The only problem, however, is that isolating and understanding cannabinoids has proven much more complicated than it sounds.

When were cannabinoids discovered?

Search for information on cannabinoids, and you'll find cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) appear in the majority of results. That being said, these weren't the first cannabinoids discovered. In fact, it would take over twenty years from the first cannabinoid discovery for scientists to identify CBD and THC fully.

Instead, the award for the first cannabinoid discovered goes to cannabinol (CBN) and British chemist Robert S. Cahn. Two years later, an American chemist uncovered CBD, but it took nearly two decades for it to be fully identified. Then, THC joined the fold thanks to the pioneering work of Raphael Mechoulam.

Dr Mechoulam remains the forefather of cannabinoid science; without his work, we wouldn't have the CBD oils, supplements, and cosmetics we use today. However, what researchers didn't know back then was that CBN, CBD, and THC belong to a much, much bigger family.

Which cannabinoids are in hemp?

We've thrown a lot of acronyms at you (CBN, CBD, and THC), so it makes sense to take a quick step back. To do that, we need to start with how the cannabinoid family works, as not all cannabinoids exist at the same time, or in the same ratios.

Instead, the development of cannabinoids is more like a family tree, and it's only under certain conditions that members of this influential family appear. However, like all powerful families, there needs to be a family head. Cannabigerol acid (CBGA) is the precursor molecule of the major cannabinoids; without it, THC, CBD, CBC, and more would not exist.

When hemp is still a seedling, CBGA reacts with enzymes to create the first major branches of the cannabinoid family tree (CBCA, THCA, CBDA) before heat and exposure to the atmosphere create even more branches. It's only at these later stages that THC and CBD appear.

We've simplified the process somewhat, but as you can see, there are dozens of changes taking place as hemp plants develop. And, it's during these changes that researchers believe up to 100 different cannabinoids are created.

How do cannabinoids work?

We know how and why cannabinoids exist, but now for the all-important question; what do they do for humans? The fascination with cannabinoids stems from the unique interaction they have with a vast network of receptors that exists inside all of us.

Located in our brain, skin, digestive organs, immune system, and nervous system are dozens of receptors. Their primary role is to monitor the different parts of our body and make sure they're running as intended.

If they aren't, or if a system is under pressure (e.g. your immune system when you have a cold), these receptors can trigger subtle changes that help the body get back to a balanced state.

This process is happening all the time, as our body continually strives for a balanced, healthy state. But, cannabinoids provide secondary input, binding with or otherwise influencing receptors to bring about their own changes to mind and body.

How cannabinoids affect the body

It's challenging to provide a definitive assessment of how cannabinoids affect the body, not because there aren't any examples, but because there are so many possible outcomes!

First, the receptors we mentioned earlier—they exist all over the body, monitoring and regulating functions such as digestion, immune function, and motor control. And, with so many processes taking place, researchers still don't fully understand the true scope of the interaction between cannabinoids and receptors.

Second, there's also the way these receptors and cannabinoids interact to consider. Not every cannabinoid interacts with every receptor. Instead, receptors operate using a “lock and key” principle. Cannabinoids have to have a chemical structure that matches the “lock” of a receptor for the two to interact.

This interaction is why every cannabinoid does something slightly different when consumed. No two cannabinoids are exactly alike, which means the outcomes vary too.

How cannabinoids affect the brain

The effect of cannabinoids on our mind is equally varied. There are dozens of receptors in the brain, affecting processes including:

• Appetite
• Mood
• Memory
• Pleasure/reward

Again, the same lock and key principle applies. In fact, this built-in mechanism is why THC produces psychotropic side effects and CBD doesn't. THC binds with receptors in parts of the brain linked to mood and appetite, while CBD doesn't.

The complexity of the human mind is also a significant factor. Because everyone is genetically unique, no network of receptors is the same, and exact outcomes and interactions will be specific to the individual.

The legality of cannabinoids is a challenging topic because it depends on which cannabinoid you're talking about.

For example, CBD is legal in most parts of the world provided it's extracted from hemp that contains no more than 0.3% THC (USA) and 0.2% THC (Europe). On the other hand, THC (unless below those thresholds) remains prohibited regardless of where it comes from.

The remaining cannabinoids fall into a melting pot of legislation. But as there is still a tremendous amount to learn about smaller compounds such as CBG, CBC, and CBN, regulation is a lot more fluid. For the most part, it's only THC that's strictly controlled, due to its psychotropic side effects.

Cannabinoids—final thoughts

We've covered a lot of ground, so it's worth recapping.

Cannabinoids are organic compounds found inside Cannabis sativa. Not only are there a lot of them, but each one can interact with receptors found all over the human body.

These receptors exist to help maintain a balanced, healthy state by regulating functions such as mood, appetite, digestion, and immune response. Cannabinoids can prompt a wide range of changes by interacting with these receptors, but there is still a lot we need to learn herein.

Researchers are working incredibly hard to understand how to exploit the relationship between receptors and cannabinoids to encourage well-being. And, at the forefront of that research is the non-toxic cannabinoid CBD.

If you've got a question about cannabinoids, you can trust Cibdol to have the answer in our CBD Encyclopedia. Or, if you're ready to experience the vast influence of cannabinoids with industry-leading CBD oils, capsules, supplements, and cosmetics, go ahead and browse the Cibdol store.

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