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Demystifying Cannabis (Part III)

This is part 3 of a 4 part series where we try to break down cannabis and explain each part in detail. In part 3 we will learn about Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) which are the 2 most important cannabinoids found in cannabis, and the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).

Part III – THC, CBD and the Endocannabinoid System

Cannabis has over 100 cannabinoids that have been identified which cause different effects, but the most prevalent are THC and CBD. These cannabinoids bind themselves to the receptors of our endocannabinoid system which causes the effects we feel. But before we get into THC and CBD we must 1st understand about the endocannabinoid system.

What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

In the 1990s scientists discovered a complex cell signalling system while exploring THC, that comprise of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoid molecules and their metabolic enzymes which help the human body maintain homeostasis. Experts are still trying to fully understand the ECS but we now know it helps regulate the following –

  • Sleep
  • Mood
  • Appetite
  • Memory
  • Reproduction and fertility

Modern research link the ECS to the following processes –

  • appetite and digestion
  • metabolism
  • chronic pain
  • inflammation and other immune system responses
  • mood
  • learning and memory
  • motor control
  • sleep
  • cardiovascular system function
  • muscle formation
  • bone remodelling and growth
  • liver function
  • reproductive system function
  • stress
  • skin and nerve function
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when all the above functions are stable, we say that the body has achieved homeostasis. Today experts state that the ECS’s primary role it is to maintain homeostasis.

The ECS is made up of 3 parts –

  • endocannabinoids
  • receptors
  • enzymes

endocannabinoids are endogenous cannabinoids, made up by the human body. Experts have identified two key endocannabinoids so far:

  • anandamide (AEA)
  • 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)

Receptors are found throughout the body and endocannabinoids bind to them which is how the ECS system sends signals. There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system
  • CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells

Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they carry out their function.

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What is THC and CBD?

THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) are the 2 most prevalent cannabinoids found in cannabis. Both THC and CBD have 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms and 2 oxygen atoms. A slight change in the structure makes all the difference in how they affect the body. Both THC and CBD are chemically similar to the human bodies endocannabinoids which allows them to interact with the cannabinoid receptors.

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THC is the main psychoactive substance with causes this psychoactive effects or the “high” that most people associate cannabis with. Depending on the strain on cannabis the effects may include euphoria, time distortion, happiness, a gain in energy, relaxation, and many more. It also helps some people with chronic pain.

THC is used to help with conditions such as:

  • pain
  • muscle spasticity
  • glaucoma
  • insomnia
  • low appetite
  • nausea
  • anxiety

CBD is the non-psychoactive component of cannabis and has many medical purposes most prevalent being its anti-inflammatory properties. It very valuable to medicine as it can help with multiple symptoms without feeling of intoxication.  

CBD is used to help with other various conditions, such as:

  • seizures
  • inflammation
  • pain
  • psychosis or mental disorders
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • nausea
  • migraines
  • depression
  • anxiety

CBD, even in large quantities can be tolerated by people without having any side effects. However THC on the other hand can have multiple temporary side effects which are part of the compounds psychoactive properties, such as –

  • increased heart rate
  • coordination problems
  • dry mouth
  • red eyes
  • slower reaction times
  • memory loss

But its most important to know that both these compounds, even in large quantities is not lethal. Teenagers, in particular, may experience adverse psychiatric effects from THC. This may be because their brain is still developing. According to some research, regular or large doses of THC can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia in some people with a predisposition for the condition. Neither CBD nor THC has any apparent side effects that are serious. Neither can be fatal when taken correctly. Also, people who use THC recreationally appear to have little risk of developing an addiction to it.

What are terpines?

Terpenes are essential oils that give cannabis its smell and taste. They also contribute to plant’s medical effects by aiding cannabinoids in crossing the brain-blood barrier. Terpenes also have the ability to increase the activation of CB1 receptors, thus boosting the effects of cannabis.

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