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Cannabinoid Science


There are currently two known subtypes of cannabinoid receptors, termed CB1 and CB2, found throughout the body with subtypes localized to specific tissues. The CB1 receptor is expressed mainly in the central nervous system, but also in the lungs, liver and kidneys. The CB2 receptor is expressed mainly in the immune system and in hematopoietic cells.

After the receptor is engaged, by either endogenous cannabinoids or plant cannabinoids, multiple intracellular signal transduction pathways are activated. Plant cannabinoids like Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) bind these receptors with different affinities, which lead to different physiological responses depending on the concentrations of these cannabinoids that are administered to a patient. For example, with THC being more specific to CB1 found in the CNS, selecting a strain of medical marijuana low in THC would be appropriate to reduce the amount of euphoria experienced.



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Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

THC is the best known cannaboid. It occurs naturally in the plant primarily as THCA, however some THC is present. As the primary psychoactive compound, it is responsible for the effect most patients are familiar with. Research shows that THC interacts with the brain similar to anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter. THC has also been found to be a neuroprotective compound with analgesic (pain relieving) effects. Typically, a sample of flower will contain 8% – 20% THCA depending on the strain and cultivation method. Edibles commonly have a much lower concentration of THC, but cannabis concentrates (hash oils, waxes, etc.) can easily exceed 80% THC content.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

CBD is the second most prominent compound found in the cannabis plant. Many of the medical benefits of cannabis are attributed to the CBD content of the medicine. It has been found to have strong anti-inflammatory and anti-convulsive properties. CBD is not a psychoactive cannabinoid like THC, and recent research shows that CBD may even inhibit the psychoactive effects of THC. Thanks to its medicinal promise, countless clinical tests are bing conducted using CBD as medicine. Historically, a sample of normal flower would contain less than 1% CBD, and ‘enriched’ strains may have contained up to 4%. More recently, caregivers have been breeding strains specifically for CBD content with great success.

Cannabinol (CBN)

CBN is one of the cannabinoids not directly synthesized by the cannabis plant, but one that occurs as a byproduct of the degradation of THC over time. This cannabinoid is also non-psychoactive, but cannabis samples with higher CBN content are generally attributed with a sedative effect. Since CBN occurs during the degradation of THC over time, the typical amount of CBN found in most samples of cannabis is less than 1%. Samples that are older, such as flowers that have been subjected to a curing process, will generally have higher CBN content than newer samples.

Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THC-A)

THC-A is the most prominent compound in raw cannabis. When cannabis is burned, vaporized, or heated for a short time, the naturally non-psychoactive THC-A will convert into the psychoactive cannabinoid, THC. THC_A naturally occurs in fresh, undried cannabis. When it comes to the anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic effects of cannabis, THC-A is believed to play a significant role. THC-A is also believed to be one of the contributing compounds to the anti-proliferative effects of cannabis.

Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THC-V)

THC-V is another cannabinoid that is most commonly found in cannabis sativa. Recent research shows that THC-V may be helpful in treating metabolic disorders including diabetes. THC-V is a homologue of THC that contains a propyl (3-carbon) side chain. It is one of the compounds found naturally in cannabis.

Cannabigerol (CBG)

Marijuana is the term used for the budsCBG is another of the non-psychoactive cannabinoids; it is not responsible for the effects of the cannabis plant that most are familiar with. Usually found in high concentrations among hemp, it is attributed with relief of intraocular pressure, one of the main symptoms of glaucoma. This cannabinoid is also associated with the antibacterial properties of some cannabis medicine, offering potential for treatment of bacterial infections like MRSA. It can also alter the overall effects of cannabis on patients.

Cannabichromene (CBC)

CBC is another cannabinoid that is non-psychoactive, and it does not impact the psychoactive effects of THC. Some research shows that it may play a role in the anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis, and could also improve the overall analgesic properties as well. Current research is investigating the possible anti-proliferative (cancer fighting) effects of CBC, but the extent of those effects are not fully understood.


Medical Marijuana. (2013). Retrieved September 9, 2013, from http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881
Amar, M. B. (2006). Cannaboids in Medicine: A Review of Their Therapeutic Potential. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 1-25.
Frankhauser, M. (2002) Chapter 4: history of cannabis in Western medicine. New York: The Haworth Integrative Healing Press.
Mirken, B. (2004). Marijuana on the State. The Lancet, 364, 842.

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