Cannabis is a complex plant, which – like most plants – has a significant array of chemical compounds (both bioactive and inactive) that make up its physical structure. You’re probably already familiar with cannabinoids like THC and CBD. But there’s plenty more to know about cannabis and the other, lesser known, albeit often equally interesting or beneficial to these ‘blockbuster’ natural chemical compounds.
A brief overview on the history of cannabinoid research
Oils from cannabis, rich in cannabinoids like CBD and THC, were used therapeutically as early as 1800 B.C., with ancient Egyptian, Indian, and Chinese medical texts referring to it. Moving forward in time, people in the first American colonies and even George Washington himself grew hemp; in the 1800s, England’s Queen Victoria used CBD oil to treat menstrual cramps. In 1906, however, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mistakenly lumped together hemp and cannabis and labelled them as dangerous and addictive drugs. As a result, medical use of cannabis in the United States sharply declined. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 made cannabinoids (including CBD) illegal, further diminishing its use.
Fortunately, in 1980, Israeli scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam found evidence that CBD oil could reduce seizures in children; in 2013, a documentary airing on CNN brought CBD oil into the mainstream media. Recently, the 2018 Farm Bill in the US legalized industrial hemp production and removed CBD from the CSA, making CBD oil fully legal in the United States. Since CBD was legalized, scientific research on it has exploded, with over 2,750 peer-reviewed studies published on its benefits. A similar path is being forged in Australia with the recent approval for CBD to be made available over the counter in Australian pharmacies from February, 2021.
What are cannabinoids like CBD?
Cannabinoids are groups of chemical compounds produced by the Cannabis sativa plant; each cannabinoid activates our body’s endocannabinoid system differently to produce different health benefits. Cannabidiol or CBD is one of the more than one hundred cannabinoids that come from the cannabis plant. Despite the name, CBD oil contains many different cannabinoids. The cannabinoids most enriched in CBD oil are the following:
- Cannabidiol (CBD): Making up 40 percent or more of CBD oil, CBD works primarily by increasing levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide as well as activating serotonin receptors. Often alternatively known as ‘Hemp Oil’ or ‘Cannabis Oil’.
- Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA): The parent of CBD preserved in some raw CBD oil products, CBDA is effective at boosting mood and reducing nausea.
- Cannabinol (CBN): The THC in full-spectrum CBD slowly breaks down over months and turns into CBN, a powerful sedative and analgesic that makes up less than 0.3 percent of CBD oil. Cannabigerol (CBG): Certain hemp strains are rich in CBG, which is non psychoactive and has strong antibacterial and anti inflammatory properties. CBG can make up anywhere from 1 percent to 20 percent of CBD oil.
- Cannabichromene (CBC): This cannabinoid fights inflammation while boosting brain cell growth—all without the high of THC and makes up less than 1 percent of CBD oil.
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): The psychoactive cannabinoid that gets you high is not found in broad-spectrum CBD oil or CBD oil made from isolate, which is discussed later in this section. THC makes up less than 0.3 percent of full-spectrum CBD oil, so it won’t have the same psychological effects on you, but will still be effective in relieving pain and reducing inflammation and spasms.
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV): This rare psychoactive cannabinoid is a potent appetite suppressant with the ability to regulate blood sugar and stimulate bone growth and makes up less than 0.1 percent of CBD oil.
What are terpenes in Cannabis?
Terpenes are chemicals in CBD oil that give it fragrance and flavor. Each strain of hemp has a different combination of terpenes, creating unique flavors and experiences—as well as additional health benefits. The most common terpenes found in CBD oil are the following:
- Beta-Caryophyllene (BCP): A powerful anti-inflammatory, BCP is the only terpene that directly binds to and activates cannabinoid receptors.
- Linalool: A major component of lavender, linalool promotes sleep, relieves anxiety, soothes pain, and reduces inflammation.
- Limonene: Also found in citrus fruits, limonene soothes upset stomach, boosts mood, and kills bacteria.
- Myrcene: Also found in mangos, myrcene is a powerful sleep aid, anti inflammatory, antidepressant, and pain reliever.
- Pinene: A major component of rosemary, pinene opens the airways, increases focus, reduces anxiety, and fights inflammation. Humulene: Also found in hops, humulene suppresses appetite, reduces inflammation, and wipes out bacteria.
What are flavonoids in Cannabis?
Flavonoids make up about 10 percent of the bioactive compounds in the cannabis plant; many flavonoids are present in common fruits and vegetables. The most abundant flavonoids found in CBD oil are the following:
- Quercetin: This anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compound also increases the number of CB1 receptors in the body, boosting the endocannabinoid system.
- Fisetin: This anti-aging superstar may increase life span by reducing the number of cells in the body that have damaged DNA.
- Kaempferol: This powerful antioxidant can help fight heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation, and can also boost levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide.
- Apigenin: This compound suppresses appetite, reduces inflammation, and can help lower stress levels.
How to best absorb the bioactive cannabinoid varieties
CBD and other cannabinoids or phytochemicals in hemp extract are absorbed better by the body when fat—such as oil—is present. A variety of carrier oils can be added to hemp extract to make CBD oil; each oil has its own fatty acid profile that influences the absorption of CBD into the body, as well as its own flavour and health benefits. Some brands even combine two or more carrier oils for a unique blend. The most used carrier oils for CBD oil are the following:
- MCT oil: Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, made from coconuts, is the most used carrier oil for CBD oil. It has many health benefits including reducing inflammation, fighting microbes, and providing energy, and has been made popular by the ketogenic diet. Because MCT oil is comedogenic (it tends to clog your pores), avoid CBD oil made from MCT if you plan to use it on your face and are prone to acne.
- Olive oil: This Mediterranean oil, rich in linoleic acid, provides superior absorption into the skin and gut, is a good source of antioxidants, and has anti-inflammatory properties. Hemp seed oil: Full of antioxidants and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, this oil is a nutritional standout that, despite its name, won’t add any more CBD to your CBD oil.
- Grapeseed oil: Rich in vitamin E, this oil is often used in CBD oil products for the face because it is non comedogenic; it won’t clog pores.
We hope this has given you a little more insight into cannabis and the complex pharmacology and biology of this plant. News and current affairs will no doubt continue to surround the 2 most famous compounds being CBD and THC, but in the future a wider dialogue can be expected about cannabis’ holistic benefits across its other cannabinoids like CBN, CBG, CBA and other phytochemicals.
- A Quick Guide to the Top Compounds of Cannabis - May 17, 2021