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What Exactly is a Cannabinoid and Its Effects on Humans?


Cannabinoids are organic compounds found in cannabis (marijuana) and related species. The most well-known cannabinoid is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive compound responsible for marijuana’s intoxicating effects. But there are more than 100 other cannabinoids in marijuana. They work together with THC in an “entourage effect” process to produce a wider range of physical and mental effects. Some cannabinoids are psychotropic, meaning they affect the brain; others have antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties; and still, others modulate the body’s hormonal system. Knowing about these compounds can help you determine the medical benefits and recreational value of different strains of marijuana and also provides important context for determining what a particular product contains. 

So what exactly is a cannabinoid? 


Cannabinoids are terpene phenolic compounds which means they consist of an aromatic ring with two double bonds connected by a linear carbon chain. Terp represents the part that is like a tree: It is made up of repeating, five-carbon units called isoprene units. (You probably know these as the “bonds” that connect the atoms in wood.) Phenol is a general name for organic compounds that includes alcohol, phenols, and carbinols.

What Is The Use of Cannabinoids?

Cannabis has been used for millennia as a recreational drug and medicine. It is still used today as a medicine in many parts of the world. The non-psychoactive compounds in cannabis, known as cannabinoids, interact with the endocannabinoid system within our bodies to produce a surprisingly wide range of effects. Scientists have only recently discovered that this system is present in all mammals and many other species. 

Our endocannabinoid system is part of a much larger system (the “endogenous cannabinoid system”) that controls a wide variety of physiological functions, including sleep, appetite, pain sensitivity, immune function, and more. By interacting with our endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids help maintain homeostasis (balance) in our body.

Why should you care about Cannabinoids? 

Well, for one thing, cannabinoids are now being studied by scientists as a potential therapy for a wide variety of medical problems, from chronic pain to cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. And there is now scientific evidence that cannabinoids can help relieve the symptoms of these problems and even slow or stop their progression. It is especially true for patients who have already tried conventional therapies and found them ineffective. Scientists are only now beginning to understand the wide-ranging implications of cannabinoids on human health and behavior.

Cannabinoids are fat-soluble, meaning they can be stored in the body’s tissues. It is one of the reasons why marijuana has been used for so many therapeutic purposes for centuries. It acts on the cannabinoid receptors in our brains and nervous systems to regulate our appetite, sleep, pain perception, mood, and other functions.

Cannabinoids are also found in eggs, milk, cheese, beef, fish, olive oil, and fruits. These compounds are generally known as “endocannabinoids.” Our bodies make endocannabinoids all the time, but these compounds are not psychoactive. They work much the same way as cannabinoids, binding to certain receptors in our brains and regulating many aspects of our biology.

So what’s the big deal about these other “non-THC” cannabinoids? Well, some of them have a far stronger affinity for CB1 receptors than THC. It means they produce much stronger “highs” but much less of a “high” or “stoned” feeling. And since the effects of THC and other cannabinoids work in synergy (meaning “together”) with one another, the effects of a non-THC cannabinoid can be very different from person to person. In other words, just because one person gets a psychoactive effect from eating a banana doesn’t mean another person will get that same effect.

How do Cannabinoids work in Our Body?

There are two primary types of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies: CB1 receptors, located in the brain, and CB2 receptors, located mainly in our immune and lymphatic systems. Other than these two main types of receptors, cannabinoids have an affinity for several other receptor sites, including those found on nerve cells (glial cells). This cannabinoid activity in our bodies produces a very complex array of effects. Scientists are just beginning to understand the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids. There is now good evidence supporting their use as analgesics, anti-emetics (to prevent vomiting), anticonvulsants, antispasmodics (to treat intestinal cramping), anti-inflammatories, appetite stimulants, and mood enhancers. 

Cannabinoids seem to work in our bodies by communicating with our endocannabinoid system. It is a group of enzymes, receptors, and other chemicals that modulate many of the body’s functions. The endocannabinoid system seems to have an important role in regulating our immune function, sleeping patterns, appetite, pain sensitivity, mental alertness, and mood. In addition to interacting with our endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids also affinity certain receptor sites located on cell membranes. When they bind to these membrane receptor sites, cannabinoids provoke a cellular response by increasing or decreasing the permeability of the cell membrane.

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