It’s no secret: as a society, we’re obsessed with wellbeing and self-care. And that can be stressful, which is why we also need to manage anxiety and find alternative therapies for common ailments. As a result, a lot of people are talking about cannabinoids, and how these plant-based substances may feed the need for so many modern-day demands. In short, cannabinoids are chemical compounds that live inside cannabis plants. And, these cannabis building blocks are why the plant is linked to a variety of potential therapeutic effects, targeting nausea, stress, aches and pain, seizures, and other troubling symptoms. This is why knowing how cannabinoids affect your body will help you tap into the potential benefits of this powerful plant-based compound. So what are the effects of cannabinoids? Today we’re going to unpack what cannabinoids are and what effects they might have on your body.
What Are Cannabinoids?
As we mentioned, these are naturally occurring chemical composites found in the cannabis plant. When applied to your body, or ingested, they can interact with your nervous system. They are the reason you may experience pain relief, or even a psychoactive high, after using certain cannabis products. But why do they interact with your nervous system?
Cannabinoids mimic compounds your own body produces, commonly referred to as endocannabinoids. Your body produces these compounds to help promote homeostasis (internal balance). They are part of a larger internal system, the Endocannabinoid System, or ECS, which regulates the immune system and other internal health functions.
Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
The human body is quite complicated. When it’s properly balanced, all your systems run smoothly. But if you experience imbalance, you can ‘blame’ your ECS. It consists of a network of cannabinoid receptors that maintain the stability of psychological and physiological functions. The system is responsible for regulating temperature, heart function, immunity, sleep, digestion, mood, and metabolism. A cannabis study done in the 1980s discovered that different cannabinoids attach to or interact with the ECS receptors, spread around your brain and body. Currently, we only know of two classes of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors are composed of G proteins and are mainly found in your central nervous system and brain. These receptors are responsible for stress response, memory, motor functions, and pain perception. CB2 receptors are commonly concentrated in body organs, mainly on your spleen, in the tonsils, and in white blood cells. The body naturally makes its own cannabinoids referred to as endocannabinoids. They function as neurotransmitters that link with the cannabinoid receptors to regulate the functions of the body. Both endocannabinoids and plant-derived, phytocannabinoids trigger these receptors.
From what we’ve learned so far, we know that cannabinoids connect with the CB1 and CB2 receptors like locks and keys. Cannabinoids attach themselves to receptors, which contain metabolic enzymes that break them down, unlocking effects similar to those produced by endocannabinoids. And here comes the really interesting part: there are hundreds of different cannabinoids in cannabis plants. And each one evokes a different effect in your body, based on which receptors they meet and how they interact once they’ve been ‘introduced.’
How Many Cannabinoids Are There?
The most famous cannabinoids are CBD and THC. But, as we just hinted, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Estimates vary, but we know of at least 60 to 100 existing cannabinoids, while we suspect that there is a significant chunk yet to be discovered.
With so many different variables, it’s fascinating to explore the interconnections between cannabinoids. For instance, CBD doesn’t link with CB1 cell receptors in the same manner as THC; in fact, it inhibits THC interaction with receptors. This quirk is especially important since THC is the cannabinoid associated with marijuana-based highs. It helps explain why cannabis strains with high CBD concentrations don’t result in users’ psychoactive high.
As we learn more about cannabinoids and your ECS, we can cultivate cannabis strains and products for their specific cannabinoid concentration. In doing so, we may be able to guarantee specific effects, from reduced stress to energized creativity, or reduced inflammation.
Here’s a look at the common types of cannabinoids in cannabis, together with their benefits and effects:
Among the various cannabinoids, THC is just about the only one that induces feelings of euphoric highs. Even other psychoactive cannabinoids don’t match THC’s potent effects. Since it was isolated first, THC is the most prevalent cannabinoid in contemporary cannabis strains and products.
THC interacts with both CB-receptors but has an affinity for CB1. Upon entry to your body, it binds to these receptors, overloading the ECS. As they connect, chemical signals between neurons and your endogenous cannabinoids are disrupted. THC triggers the CB1 receptors and escalates blood flow to your brain’s prefrontal cortex. It can result in the activation of cognitive changes like attention, decision-making, and motor skills.
THC interconnects with CB1 receptors and triggers the brain’s reward circuitry, which affects memory and emotional functions. In medical applications, THC can assist with mood, digestion, and pain relief. It has also been used to treat symptoms of sleep apnea, epilepsy, HIV/AIDs, and Parkinson’s disease. When THC enters your body, some of its effects include vomiting, dizziness, concentration issues, memory problems, and drowsiness.
CBD is the second-most prominent cannabinoid and is entirely opposite to THC. CBD has no affinity for cannabinoid receptors, nor does it induce intoxicating effects, likely because.it doesn’t trigger CB1 receptors. CBD suppresses protein molecules in body cells that break down your endogenous cannabinoids in what is a phenomenon referred to as a non-competitive allosteric modulator. This means it changes the shape of CB1 receptors, making it hard for CB1 agonists like THC to activate the receptor.
Because of this, CBD may induce more physiological effects such as:
- Better sleep
- Improved appetite
- Reduced stress
CBD is similar to THC in some of these physical effects, but without triggering psychoactive ones. Still, consuming high doses of CBD may result in side effects like diarrhea, nausea, and dizziness.
CBG is a less known cannabinoid that is gaining traction among cultivators and researchers for its apparent benefits. Like CBD, CBG is not psychoactive, but it is usually present in cannabis in very small quantities. CBG is being explored for its potential to address Crohn’s disease, cancerous tumor growth, irritable bowel syndrome, and glaucoma.
CBC is yet another minor, non-psychoactive cannabinoid drawing attention for its potential healing properties. And, like CBD, it acts as a shield against THC. It appears to play an integral role in neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, both essential functions of brain development and health. It also appears to have anti-inflammatory properties, but it doesn’t activate endocannabinoid receptors.
CBN is a psychoactive cannabinoid, but its effects pale in comparison to those of THC. That’s because it comes from tetrahydrocannabinolic acid and is made after THC has been exposed to oxygen. So as CBN increases and THC decreases, marijuana may start losing its potency. CBN is associated with sedative-like effects. So, you may benefit from a cannabis strain with high CBN concentrations before going to bed. CBN can also help address symptoms of arthritis while minimizing muscle spasms, and acting as an anti-bacterial.
Other known cannabinoids include THC-A (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), THC-V (Tetrahydrocannabivarin), CBDV (Cannabidivarin) and CBDA (Cannabidolic Acid).
Some cannabinoids, like THC, are commonly abused. And even non-psychoactive cannabinoids can be overused, or increase certain risks. Some common cannabinoid side effects include:
- Mood swings and hallucination
- Impaired memory and movement
- Vomiting and nausea
- Rapid heartbeat
- Panic attacks
Abuse of Cannabinoids
Like any drug consumed for a long duration, some cannabinoids could negatively affect your body. Certain studies suggest that prolonged usage of select cannabinoids might lead to reproductive and endocrine system damage. Signs that you are abusing cannabinoids include:
- Consuming large amounts at all times during the day
- Not motivated to perform other activities
- Opting to use the product instead of socializing with family and friends
- Intense craving to use when feeling anxious or stressed
Cannabinoids have long been consumed for medical and recreational purposes. However, you should note that cannabinoids such as THC might produce negative effects, including addiction.
The cannabinoids world is diverse and vast. If you don’t want to get high and hope to avoid the fall-out of negative side effects, explore non-psychoactive options like CBD. And always consult with your doctor before adding a new supplement to your routine.