Cannabis contains two classes of compounds of interest: Cannabinoids (CBs) and Terpenes. Unlike opioids and many other active compounds found in plants, the cannabinoids do not contain a nitrogen and are not considered to be alkaloids. Unlike other herbs that had yielded a “magic bullet” cannabis was offering what has been called a “synergistic shotgun” of compounds. These compounds are made from carbon chains. The biochemistry and pharmacology of most of these compounds is poorly understood, but it is well known that THC acts as a partial agonist on an endogenous receptor system now named after the CBs and composed of two verified receptors: CB1 located primarily in the brain and nervous system, and CB2, located primarily on immune cells. There is certainly much more to the story. CBD, for instance, has risen to prominence as a compound of interest and while many pieces of research assert that it acts on the CB2 receptor selectively, the biochemical evidence for this assertion is weak and it is likely in my opinion we will identify an entirely separate receptor responsible for it’s activity. It also appears likely that THC and other cannabinoids act on receptors of other well established systems, such as the vannilloid receptors. Evidence has accumulated from tissue culture and animal models that may or may not be applicable to humans. All that can be said without getting incredibly detailed and speculative is that many of these compounds are likely to alter the effects of other compounds either through associated receptors, unknown receptors, or by modulating the metabolism of other compounds. The following is a brief list of compounds of interest found in some cannabis strains:
Major cannabinoids: Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA), Cannabidiol (CBD), Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Carboxylic Acid(Δ9-THC-A, THCA), Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC, THC), Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8-THC), Cannabinol (CBN), Cannabigerol (CBG), Cannabichromene (CBC), Cannabicyclol (CBL), and Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV).
Terpenes (not limited to): Lanalool, B-Myrcene, a-Pinene, D-limonene, and B-Caryophyllene.
A Brief History Cannabis
Cannabis has been used by humanity for more than 10,000 years. Selective breeding created strains that were suited to the production of fiber for rope and clothing, and for the production of oil-rich seeds for food. Strains that were developed for fiber and food have been called hemp and were traditionally grown all over the world, from Asia to Europe and, with the European Colonists, in America.
It did not go unnoticed by our ancestors that the female flowers produced an aromatic sticky compound that could be collected and ingested with medicinal and psychoactive effects.
When the pharmacologists of the early 20th century turned their attention to this plant they were able to isolate a compound that seemed to be responsible for the bulk of the psychoactive effects: Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC, THC). The assumption was that, much like opium and many other medicinal plants, we find and isolate a single active compound. It turned out not to be that simple. Even THC isn’t naturally produced by the plant, but rather is a result of the decarboxylation of Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Carboxylic Acid (Δ9-THC-A, THCA). Medicines were developed based on THC and synthetic analogs in the 1980s, yet these medicines failed to achieve the same efficacy at relieving conditions that many medicinal users of cannabis claimed. There was also a need to account for the well documented phenomena of different strains having similar but also distinct effects.
The primary THC receptor was discovered and cloned in the 1990’s, beginning the true age of cannabinoid research.
What is this Plant Doing?
There are many theories on just what it is that Cannabis is doing producing these crazy biologically active compounds. The glands that produce the terpene and CB compounds are located on stalks called trichomes. One theory is when insects break the thin membrane on the outside of the trichome it allows the terpenes to evaporate and the CBs to harden, trapping the insect. Insects are also sensitive to terpenes, which may irritate the insect causing them to release pheromones which may further repel other insects.
It is also worth noting that rodents suffer much more amplified and notable effects from ingesting THC and this may provided the seeds some protection from being eaten by rats and mice.