The Compounds in Cannabis
Nature’s gardens are blessed with millions of "wellness" molecules that are vital to the existence of all life. But did you know that a myriad of these molecules is present within the cannabis plant? To date, scientists have discovered thousands of unique molecules within the cannabis plant, which are categorized by flavonoids, terpenes, and cannabinoids. Let's explore the compounds in cannabis.
The Cannabinoid Compounds
We've all heard of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) - the cannabinoid acclaimed for the cannabis plant’s high-inducing effects, and also CBD (cannabidiol) - the cannabinoid that everyone is talking about; but these are just two of over 100 in discovery.
The cannabis family consists of tens of thousands of unique cultivars, hosting their own unique blend of molecules.
Most strains are either THC or CBD dominant. The former being commonly used as a recreational substance, with the latter mostly associated with hemp - the cannabis species’ non-psychoactive member.
Beyond THC and CBD, there's CBG (cannabigerol) - the third most commanding neutral cannabinoid.
Although the current cannabinoid count is innumerable, only two of these precious molecules exist at the beginning of the cannabis plant's lifecycle. And neither of them is THC, CBD, or CBG.
Every cannabinoid derives from either CBGA (cannabigerolic acid) or CBGVA (cannabigerovarinic acid) - both of which are acidic.
During the crop period, CBGA and CBGVA mutate into a cluster of other acidic cannabinoids, such as THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), CBDA (cannabidiolic acid), and CBGA (cannabigerolic acid).
Cannabinoids further transform as a result of decarboxylation (heat treatment), thus converting THCA into THC, and so forth.
All in all, there are eight core cannabinoid analogs:
- CBC (cannabichromene)
- CBN (cannabinol)
- CBT (cannabitriol)
- CBL (cannabicyclol)
- CBE (cannabielsoin)
With additional decarboxylation or another process known as oxidation, the molecular structure alters further, creating a whole new bundle of cannabinoids.
Cannabinoid scientific research has barely scratched the surface, but conducted studies thus far have showcased a tremendous amount of unique medicinal efficacies.
Although most of the research is inconclusive, results are promising. However, in June 2018, the medical cannabis industry witnessed one of its biggest breakthroughs after the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved GW Pharmaceuticals CBD based drug - Epidiolex - which is manufactured for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and Dravet syndrome, in patients two years of age and older.
The award for cannabis breeders' favorite family of compounds goes to terpenes. These precious molecules are abundant in nature, amassing to around 20 thousand in total - with nearly 200 present throughout the catalog of cannabis strains.
Terpenes play a vital role within the plant world as they act as both a pollinator and a plant’s defense mechanism by shielding them from the sun’s rays. Furthermore, their potent odor helps deter natural predators.
Cannabis breeders are attracted to terpenes by their diverse aromas, often dictating the breed of strain.
For instance, the cannabis strain - Lemon Haze, is aptly named due to its yellow color and citric scent, which is determined by the terpene - limonene - a terpene that is present in many cannabis strains and an array of fruits, particularly citric.
In addition to their odors, cannabis terpenes offer a bundle of medicinal efficacies. Like-wise with cannabinoids, terpenes’ remedial offerings are unique. Regarding food, the antiviral gift from parsley and basil is a result of the terpene, ocimene. If you're a fan of strains such as green crack or clementine, then ocimene is just one of the terpenes that you're consuming.
Although over 100 terpenes are found in cannabis, only a handful appear regularly. The common cannabis terpenes include:
Myrcene was purposely added to the top of the list because it is the most commanding terpene throughout the cannabis species. Furthermore, it has more of an impact on the plant than any other terpene.
In addition to its dominating presence, myrcene also determines whether the strain is Indica or Sativa. Myrcene is a mild sedative, so, in principle, a strain with over 0.5% (by weight) of myrcene, would likely be an Indica strain.
Although flavonoids are bountiful throughout nature, they're the most understudied compound in cannabis.
Terpenes aren't plants' only defense mechanism - flavonoids also protect plants from the sun's UV rays. Additionally, flavonoids further complement a plant's natural aromas.
Flavonoids' primary function is to provide color pigmentation to plants, offering a second attraction to their pollinators.
All in all, there are an estimated 6,000 flavonoids throughout the plant world. Flavonoids such as kaempferol, quercetin, and luteolin, are present in many plants. But indifferent from terpenes, flavonoids have a catalog that is unique to the cannabis species, these are known as cannaflavins.
Keeping in tradition with the compounds in cannabis, flavonoids are also filled with remedial properties. For example, Cannaflavin A, which can only be found in cannabis (including hemp and CBD hemp flower), has anti-inflammatory properties greater than aspirin.
The Synergies of Cannabis Compounds
As each molecule's remedial offerings may differ, collectively, they enhance one-another by diversifying the medical benefits. Furthermore, you'll induce what is known as "the entourage effect".
There are multiple ways in which you can reap the rewards of the compounds in cannabis. Whether you smoke cannabis on a recreational level or opt for hemp extracts such as CBD oil, you're taking in a large portion of the plant's precious molecules.
For decades cannabis advocates and activists have cried out the benefits of the plant. Cannabis research has shown consistency from the 1960's up to legalization, highlighting many of the plant's benefits - But since legislation changes throughout the US, research has intensified, further reinforcing long-term claims of the plant’s therapeutic offerings.
Terpenes and flavonoids contribute incredibly to the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. With the addition of cannabinoids, scientific research is reinforcing the claims to the plant’s marvel.
The fact that we have barely scratched the surface with cannabis research, and the fact that the discovery of further cannabis compounds is expected - future revelations are a mouth-watering prospect.