THC, CBD, and CBN: Your Guide to Cannabinoids

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Whether it’s THC, CBD, or CBN, hopefully you’ve found the right legal cannabis product to suit your medical needs or recreational fancy. Since you’re here, you know how great the benefits of cannabis are, and how good it feels to get a little relief. From soothing aches and pains to stimulating hunger or simply having a good time, marijuana is one powerful leaf that gets the job done. You already know that marijuana works, but have you ever stopped and wondered just how it works?

There are dozens, possibly even hundreds, of chemical compounds called cannabinoids that are produced by the marijuana plant. When you smoke or ingest cannabis, these compounds get picked up by transmitters in your brain where they produce euphoria, relaxation, or the munchies. These cannabis loving transmitters are actually part of a sophisticated bodily system that helps us maintain homeostasis in our bodies, known as the endocannabinoid system.

The Endocannabinoid System

Cannabinoids found in marijuana actually mimic compounds that we already produce within our own bodies called endocannabinoids. The endocannabinoids help regulate several bodily systems and keep us in a comfortable and healthy state. Among the endocannabinoid system’s long list of responsibilities you’ll find: regulating appetite and digestion, immune function, inflammation, mood, sleep, motor control, memory, pain, and pleasure.

We have two types of cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are essential to maintaining our inner status quo and can be found in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. CB1 receptors reside in the central nervous system in our brains and in the nerves in our spinal cords. CB2 receptors, however, are found in the nerves in our limbs, hands, and feet, and inside our digestive organs. 

When your body releases endocannabinoids to do a specific job, like stimulating hunger, it also sends out an enzyme to break down the endocannabinoid shortly after. Your body has a very intelligent way of taking care of this process so the endocannabinoid doesn’t hang around once its work is done. That’s why you don’t get high on your own supply. When you smoke or ingest marijuana, however, it’s a totally different story.

What is THC?

THC, short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinal, is probably the most famous cannabinoid around. This is the compound in marijuana that gives you that high-flying feeling of euphoria. Of all the cannabinoids in marijuana, THC is the most dominant compound that has been isolated so far. It was discovered in 1964 by an Israeli researcher named Raphael Mechoulam who discovered the compound by studying highly concentrated hashish oil. 

How does THC work?

Whether you smoke it, vape it, or eat it in a cookie, the THC in marijuana works the same way. The chemical compounds enter your body and get picked up the receptors in your endocannabinoid system. Your body’s receptors read the THC as a signal to release dopamine, relieve pain, and get hungry. 

You actually produce an endocannabinoid all on your own that is very similar to THC. This compound is called anandamide, from the Sanskrit word for bliss ananda. Anandamide has a calming effect on your body, but it doesn’t get you high like THC because of the enzyme your body produces to break it down.

However, unlike the endocannabinoids that your body releases, THC doesn’t come with an enzyme to pick up after it. Since your body doesn’t immediately break the THC down, its effects can last for around two hours, which is the perfect amount of time to make a big snack and watch a movie. 

Is there a difference between the THC in indica and sativa strains?

You probably expect a different experience from indica and sativa strains, but cannabis researchers say that isn’t necessarily the case. In case you haven’t heard, indica strains are supposed to be more relaxing while sativas are energizing and uplifting. The two types of marijuana plants are distinguished from each other by their appearance while they grow. Sativa plants tend to be taller and more slender, while indica plants are short and bushy. 

Neurologist and cannabis researcher Evan Russo told Leafly, “The way that the sativa and indica labels are utilized in commerce is nonsense.” Instead of looking to the shape of the plant to determine its effects, Russo urges consumers to ask about the THC and CBD content of a strain when choosing between flowers. Speaking of CBD…

What is CBD?

CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is also found in marijuana. Known in scientific circles as cannabidiol, CBD is having a big moment in the spotlight. This newly popular compound is being touted as a cure-all for afflictions ranging from epilepsy to anxiety and finding its way into gummies, lattes, and skincare products. 

How does CBD work?

Although some experts aren’t sure that CBD does work, others have found it helpful with pain management and as a sleep aid. CBD is already being used in one FDA approved medication, the children’s epilepsy drug Epidiolex. Additionally, CBD can also interact with THC in a way that makes you feel less high. If you’re newer to using cannabis, CBD can be great to have on hand in case you get too high too quickly. Although it does not get you high, CBD is still banned except in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal.

What is CBN?

You may have heard of a new cannabinoid hitting the scene, known as CBN. Short for cannabinol, CBN is similar to CBD in that it does not make you high. CBN, however, is mainly used as a sleep aid. One recent study found that a 5mg dose of CBN was as effective in getting patients to sleep as a 10mg dose of a pharmaceutical sleep aid. Although CBN is present in much lower numbers in the cannabis plant than THC and CBD, it is possible to extract CBN for highly concentrated products.

It’s incredible to think what an intimate relationship a plant can have with our brains and bodies. Chemical compounds invisible to the human eye are produced in the leaves and flowers of the marijuana plant with profound effects on our lives. As cannabis research continues, we can expect to learn more about the many, many cannabinoids that come from this plant and the benefits they can bring to each of us. In the meantime, we’ll keep enjoying our THC, CBD, and CBN.

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