The majority of pharmaceutical and academic research & development activities investigating the physiological and disease-fighting properties of cannabis revolves around the understanding of one class of biologically active ingredients, the cannabinoids. In the 1960s, several compounds were isolated from the cannabis plant. While there are over 100 different cannabinoids identified in cannabis, the two most well-known and studied compounds in the cannabis plant also happen to be the two that occur in the largest quantity: Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) and cannabidiol (“CBD”). Many of the remaining compounds demonstrate unique properties and mechanisms apart from those of psychoactive THC and non-psychoactive cannabidiol.
General Categories of Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids fall into three general types: (1) phytocannabinoids, such as those that can be isolated from the cannabis plant; (2) endogenous cannabinoids (“endocannabinoids”), which are produced naturally in the bodies of humans and animals; and (3) synthesized cannabinoids, which are produced in the laboratory and may have structural deviations from the naturally occurring drugs.
While THC content varies substantially among cannabis strains, it generally represents between 15% and 35% of the cannabinoid content of the plant, and CBD is typically between 1% and 12%.
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This is a sample of some cannabinoid receptors.
Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body and are involved in many different functions, such as pain perception, memory, immune function and sleep. Cannabinoids act as messengers that bind to cannabinoid receptors, as well as other receptors, signaling the endocannabinoid system into action. The relevance of the endocannabinoid system on many important physiological processes has made cannabinoids an important target to potentially treat a number of diseases and symptoms.
Before the 1980s, it was often speculated that cannabinoids produced their effects through nonspecific interaction with cell membranes, instead of interacting with specific receptors. The discovery of the first cannabinoid receptors occurred in the 1980s and helped to clarify their role. These receptors are common in mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. While there are numerous cannabinoid receptors in the human body, the two most well-known are the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), which is more significant to the central nervous system, and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2), which is more common with the immune system.
Phytocannabinoids occur naturally in the cannabis plant and are concentrated in a viscous resin that is produced in glandular structures known as trichomes. In addition to cannabinoids, the resin is rich in terpenes, which are largely responsible for the scent of the cannabis plant.
There are 100+ known phytocannabinoids. Of these, THC and CBD are the most prevalent and have received the most attention.
THC is the primary psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. Medically, it appears to mitigate pain.