Throughout millenia, the cannabis plant has been interwoven into the fabric of human history, evolving from ancient medicinal applications to contemporary uses. Its rich history and intricate cellular makeup are as captivating as its diverse array of compounds.
Recent years have witnessed a surge in fascination, not only with the well-known THC and CBD but with a myriad of alternative cannabinoids. Cannabinoids, the active ingredients responsible for the effects of different cannabis strains, are primarily of plant origin, known as phytocannabinoids.
Scientists have uncovered over 100 distinct cannabinoids, with more awaiting discovery. Among these, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the most renowned phytocannabinoids.
In this guide, we aim to navigate the intriguing labyrinth of cannabinoids, focusing on Delta 8, HHC, Delta 9, and THCP. These cannabinoids are available in various forms, including edibles, tinctures, liquids, vapes, and dabs.
The Effects of Cannabis and the Role of the Endocannabinoid System:
The compounds in cannabis interact with protein receptors in our cells, a process central to the effects experienced. Humans possess a specialized system of receptors and chemicals designed to interact with cannabinoids, known as the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).
Discovered in the 1990s, the ECS's genetic origins trace back 600 million years. It comprises three key components:
- Endocannabinoids: These cannabinoids naturally originate within humans. Two prominent endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).
- Cannabinoid Receptors: These protein structures on cell surfaces bind to both endo- and phyto-cannabinoids, transmitting signals and eliciting cellular responses. The primary cannabis receptors are CB-1 and CB-2.
- Enzymes: They metabolize endocannabinoids after they fulfill their functions, regulating their duration. Phytocannabinoids interact with enzymes differently, extending their effects.
The ECS acts as the body's tuning system, present in tissue cells throughout the body. It ensures every organ, cell, and system functions optimally. In response to the body's needs, it can enhance or diminish specific chemical signals to maintain stability. The ECS's involvement is crucial for everyday functions, including eating, sleeping, and reproduction.
Anandamide is known for regulating motivation and pleasure. It is often called the “bliss molecule” as its action results in positive, uplifting feelings. Readily produced during exercise, a “runner’s high” is a surge of AEA in your brain.
Structurally and functionally, AEA is very similar to THC. However, THC produces much stronger mood elevation and more psychoactive effects than Anandamide is capable of producing.
The Cannabinoid Family Tree:
At the core of every cannabis plant lies a natural process that gives rise to the multitude of cannabinoids we know today. Trichomes, the tiny, crystal-like structures on the plant's surface, are where biosynthesis takes place, converting raw materials into cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids naturally occur in small amounts within cannabis, primarily as acidic forms like THCA and CBDA. To convert these acids into the celebrated cannabinoids, decarboxylation is necessary. This process involves heat application, time, or specific chemicals.
The remarkable journey begins with the formation of cannabinoid acids. Contrary to popular belief, freshly harvested cannabis doesn't contain significant amounts of THC or CBD, but rather their acid forms: THCA and CBDA. These acid forms carry an "-A" suffix, indicating their raw, unactivated state.
For example, Non-psychoactive THCA transforms into psychoactive D9-THC when smoked, vaporized, or baked into edibles. This is why cannabis flower is not consumed in raw plant form.
Post-decarboxylation, cannabinoids embark on various pathways, forming the diverse family tree of compounds. From the commonly known THC and CBD to the lesser-known CBC and CBG, and many others, the plant's potential seems boundless. And as research continues, who knows how many more family members we'll discover?