The endocannabinoid system is comprised of cannabinoid receptors and naturally produced cannabinoids, known as endogenous cannabinoids. These cannabinoids are extremely similar to the ones produced by the cannabis plant (which is why it’s helpful to distinguish between them as phytocannabinoids and endogenous cannabinoids).
Cannabinoids interact with cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors appear to be primarily located in our brain, while CB2 receptors are mainly expressed in immune tissue and spread out all over. (Keep in mind: Research is still young. Scientists are discovering new things ever day!)
These interactions, which make up the endocannabinoid system, are thought to underlie a number of important functions, including: appetite, sleep, pain, cognitive function, metabolism, stress, and immune function.
For example: When body tissue is damaged, your cells produce cannabinoids that regulate inflammation and pain sensation through interaction with cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are the same receptors targeted by the cannabinoids in marijuana.
The marijuana plant contains over 100 known phytocannabinoids. Some of the most common compounds (including their hypothesized benefits) are listed below:
- CBC (Cannabichromene): Anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, antidepressant, pain relief, may inhibit tumor growth
- CBD (Cannabidiol): Anti-inflammatory, anti-epileptic, antidepressant, anxiety relief, pain relief, may inhibit tumor growth
- CBDV (Cannabidivarin): Anti-inflammatory, anti-epileptic, anti-nausea, neuroprotective
- CBG (Cannabigerol): Anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, neuroprotective, antibacterial, appetite stimulant, may inhibit tumor growth
- CBN (Cannabinol): Anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, neuroprotective, appetite stimulant, sleep aid (when combined with THC)
- THC (Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol): Psychoactive; anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, pain relief, sleep aid, appetite stimulant, may inhibit tumor growth and help with weight loss
- THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid): Anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, neuroprotective, sleep aid, appetite stimulant, pain relief, may inhibit tumor growth and help with weight loss and muscle spasms
- THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin): Appetite suppressant, neuroprotective, anti-anxiety, may stimulate bone growth and regulate blood sugar
Cannabis also contains another class of compounds, called terpenes. Terpenes give the plant its scent and flavor (in addition to providing bacterial, viral, and fungal protection). There are roughly 150 known terpenes in marijuana (and approximately 20,000 found in other plants). Some of the most common terpenes found in cannabis include:
- Caryophyllene: Anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, antidepressant, antioxidant, pain relief, sleep aid, may help with muscle spasms
- Humulene: Anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, pain relief
- Limonene: Anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, antidepressant, anti fungal, gastric reflux relief
- Linalool: Anti-anxiety, anti-convulsant, antidepressant, pain relief, sleep aid
- Myrcene: Anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti fungal, antiseptic, relaxing
- Pinene: Anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, bronchodilator, pain relief, may increase focus and alertness
- Terpineol: Anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antioxidant, sleep aid (“couch lock”)
- Terpinolene: Anti-anxiety, antibacterial, anti-fungal, uplifting