Even if you’re an active cannabis user, there’s most likely a lot about our favorite plant that remains a mystery. So grab your lab coats and microscopes and let’s dive into the science of cannabis!
Cannabinoids are the main drivers of the effect in cannabis products and include compounds such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Scientists have isolated many different cannabinoids from the cannabis plant and are still discovering the variety of effects that cannabinoids produce.
CBGa (Cannabigerolic Acid) and CBG (Cannabigerol)
THC is created through a series of chemical changes that all begins from a cannabinoid called CBGa, also referred to as Cannabigerolic Acid. When growing a cannabis plant, the flowering stage is where the plant begins to develop the tiny clear mushroom shaped trichomes on the buds. The trichomes are where the cannabinoids are created, but they all begin from one type called CBGa. As the cannabis plant continues to mature into the late stages of flowering, the CBGa will convert into the THCa. CBGa can also convert into other cannabinoids such as CBDa and CBCa, other cannabinoids that have their own benefits as well. Depending on the growing conditions and the strain of the plant will determine the percentage of these cannabinoids. CBG (Cannabigerol) has its own benefits as well. Like CBD, it is not a psychoactive cannabinoid which makes it appealing to people who have a low tolerance to THC. Strains that are high in CBG may help relieve pain and inflammation, some studies have even shown CBG is helpful for relieving Glaucoma, Chrone’s Disease and IBS. This may be due to its anti-inflammatory effects that can help relieve the symptoms of these ailments.
THCa (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are some of the main cannabinoids that the cannabis plant is cultivated for. THC is the main psychoactive compound of cannabis, but it must be activated before consumption for it to have any effect. When looking at test results for raw cannabis and some concentrates (depending on the processes used to extract said concentrates), the percentage of THCa will indicate how potent a batch of cannabis is. It is important to understand this as sometimes trace amounts of THC may show up on test results as well as sometimes THCa can convert to THC during the drying and curing process.
Our CB1 and CB2 Endocannabinoid system in our bodies need THC to interact with, the THCa molecule is too large to bind with our cannabinoid receptors in our body which is why consuming THCa will not be effective. This is why raw cannabis must be heated prior to consumption. THCa can be converted to THC by using either combustion or vaporization. THCa will decarboxylate at temperatures of 250 degrees or more, although ideal vaporization temperatures are said to be between 356 to 374 degrees Fahrenheit. Combustion temperatures can reach up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit or more, which can have an impact on the lungs over time.
THC can be helpful in a number of ways and THC can have both physical and psychological benefits. Some of the physical benefits of THC are pain relief, inflammation reduction, relief of nausea and muscle spasms. Some psychological benefits of THC are relief of anxiety and depression, it can be used as a sleep aid and an appetite enhancer.
THC can have some side effects, some of them being: dry eyes and mouth, increased heart rate, anxiety/paranoia, delayed reaction time and coordination issues. It is important to document any occurrences of these side effects so you can know which types of products or strains you need to avoid to prevent recurring side effects in the future.
CBDa (Cannabidiolic Acid) and CBD (Cannabidiol)
CBDa (Cannabidiolic Acid) and CBD (Cannabidiol) are becoming increasingly popular in the medical cannabis industry. CBD is another type of cannabinoid found in cannabis, but unlike THC, CBD does not have psychoactive “high” effects when consumed. CBD is similar to THC in that it also needs to be decarboxylated by applying heat to it before consuming. The chemical structure of CBDa requires it to be vaporized at a slightly higher temperature than THCa, between approximately 360 to 390 degrees Fahrenheit.
CBDa is unique for the way it interacts with the endocannabinoid system, as it does not interact directly with the CB1 receptors. The way CBD works is it regulates the endocannabinoid system by controlling the enzymes that give rise to inflammation in the body and also modifies the receptors’ ability to bind to cannabinoids.
CBD is used to treat pain and inflammation, it is also shown to have anti-convulsant effects as well which is beneficial for people with seizure disorders and issues with muscle spasms or tension. CBD is a popular ingredient in topical cannabis products due to its inflammation relieving qualities. Because CBD does not produce a “high” effect, it is becoming increasingly popular for treating anxiety and depression without the potential of side effects such as paranoia. THC and CBD working in conjunction may be beneficial for mood enhancement, as many consumers who have used cannabis with both cannabinoids have found that the CBD helps alleviate some of these negative side effects of the psychoactive cannabinoid.
Terpenes work with cannabinoids and other compounds to provide the nuances of your experience. Along with cannabinoids and other compounds in cannabis, terpenes help create the widely varying effects associated with each strain of cannabis, this is referred to as this Entourage Effect. They also give cannabis plants their distinct aromas. There are thousands of terpenes found in cannabis, but there are some that we see more commonly.
Entourage Effect Theory
The entourage effect theory suggests that cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds act synergistically to modulate the overall effects of cannabis. This is where sativa, indica and hybrid strains will then split off and have their own unique set of benefits and effects.
Particular cannabinoids and terpenes are associated with feelings of deep relaxation, pain relief and appetite stimulation. Other cannabinoids and terpenes are associated with feelings of alertness, focus and increased concentration. The terms indica and sativa are taxonomy terms used to classify different types of cannabis plants. These terms may not reflect the effects of different strains.
The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabis consumption can help ensure proper functioning of the endocannabinoid system that exists naturally in our bodies. You do not need to consume cannabis in order to have an active ECS, your body naturally produces Endocannabinoids. Cannabinoids consumed from the cannabis plant are referred to as Phytocannabinoids. The two primary cannabinoid receptors have been identified in the endocannabinoid system as CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are found predominantly in the brain and central nervous system. CB2 receptors are found throughout the rest of the body and peripheral nervous system.
The endocannabinoid system uses cannabinoids to modulate various functions in the body to maintain homeostasis. An example of this being an injury causing pain and inflammation, and the ECS will target the specific receptors in that area of the body to help relieve the pain and achieve “Homeostasis”.