Cannabinoids are more than just a difficult word to pronounce. They are compounds found in or related to cannabis. As of 2021, research has shown that two types of cannabinoids exist: endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids is such a new word, my Microsoft Word insists it doesn’t exist and is in fact a spelling error.
Needless to say, the research is relatively new, despite cannabis having been utilized medicinally and therapeutically across nations, cultures, and generations. The science and the research is finally backing up the various medicinal and therapeutic uses for cannabis and with that, we are understanding the inner workings of our bodies more deeply; with the recent discoveries such as the identification of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). But in order to begin to wrap our heads around the vast possibilities of cannabinoids, we need to understand what they are and how they function. Welcome to Cannabinoids 101!
Here is a short introduction to the two cannabinoids we know of: endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids. This breakdown is meant to help you conceptualize the way our bodies work without plant intervention, and in turn, how plant intervention impacts our bodies and therefore how it can help us lead happier and healthier lives.
Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are produced by the body. These cannabinoids are released by molecular enzymes in order to maintain homeostasis in the body. Once their task is complete, they are terminated by the same metabolic enzymes that created them. Think of endocannabinoids as just one of your body’s tiny, intricate system of checks and balances.
Endo comes from the Greek word for ‘within’, indicating that it is a chemical created within the body. You’ve probably heard the word endogenous before, which means having an internal cause or origin. Endocannabinoids originate within the body, making them endogenous.
The existence of endocannabinoids was a very important discovery, as the endocannabinoids prove our body requires cannabinoids to create and maintain daily balances. The option to introduce further cannabinoids into our body via phytocannabinoids therefore, follows logically. The discovery and identification of endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system has been an integral fact in the argument to legalize cannabis. Knowing our bodies are already producing cannabinoids is a solid argument for introducing phytocaannabinoids into your system. You can read more about endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoids system by clicking here.
Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are produced by plants. Phyto means pertaining to plants and while the first plant that comes to mind is the cannabis or marijuana plant, there are several other plants we know about which also produce phytocannabinoids. Some of them are: echinacea (also known as coneflower), cacao (that’s right – chocolate!), black pepper, black truffles, Chinese rhododendron, and kava. Phytocannabinoids also produce a chemical called delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, but you might recognize it by its more common abbreviation: THC. Learn more about THC by clicking here.
While phytocannabinoids are unique from endocannabinoids in their structure, our body’s endocannabinoid system responds in the same way to both of the cannabinoids. The big difference in phytocannabinoids and our body’s response to them versus endocannabinoids is that THC bonds more tightly to our receptors. THC activates the CB1 receptors in the brain, which is what creates the feeling over being high.
Another interesting difference between phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids is that because THC binds more tightly to the CB1 receptors, the effects of the cannabinoids are more lasting. So whereas the body releases enzymes to destroy endocannabinoids once they’ve completed their task of regaining balance in the body, the ECS does not have the same in response to phytocannabinoids.
Why Cannabinoids Matter
So now you have a brief overview of each cannabinoid! Great! The question is: why should you care?
I’m glad you asked! The reasons are as vast as the medicinal and therapeutic uses of phytocannabinoids. By understanding endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system, we understand what our body is already producing and why. This becomes a gateway to opening up the possibilities of utilizing phytocannabinoids as tools for mental and physical health and well-being.
Think of it like melatonin: a chemical produced naturally by the body to induce sleep. But when we are in need of sleep but suffering from insomnia, we are therefore low on melatonin. Our answer was to manufacture a melatonin pill to function as a sleep-aid. (Oh and by the way, CBD and THC are both great sleep-aids too!) By isolating chemicals in phytocannabinoids, we can create specific treatments for conditions like Tourette Syndrome, PTSD, depression, chronic pain, and more.