Cannabis, Cannabinoids, Cannabidiol, Tetra-Hydro Cannabinol. Yes it’s all a bit confusing. Here is a short summary of what they are with some more notes further on.
Cannabis: the delightful plant that many people use to access altered states of consciousness. Ok so that’s easy. There are two species: The botanical names are Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica.
Cannabinoids: a group of compounds found throughout the plant and animal kingdoms that act on cannabinoid receptors in your brain. There are at least 85 found in the cannabis plant but the most noted ones are THC and cannabidiol.
Tetra-Hydro Cannabinol (THC): a chemical found in the cannabis plant that has psychoactive properties – get’s you stoned.
Cannabidiol (CBD): a chemical found in cannabis that has no psychoactive properties – it doesn’t get you high but has a lot of health benefits – see below.
Ok so here is a more in-depth look at the toking world of cannabis.
The Cannabis Plant
It is widely accepted that there are two kinds (species) of cannabis that people use for recreational drug taking: C. sativa and C. indica. They cross fertilise producing hybrids containing traits of both species.
A simple guide to identification is: Sativa is a taller, loosely branched plant with long narrow leaves. Indica is shorter and bushier with wider leaves and so more suited to growing indoors. (See below for differences in cannabinoid chemistry).
Hemp is a variety of C. sativa containing negligible amounts of THC. It is used for the manufacture of fabric, clothing, mulch, plastics etc as well as animal feed and for human consumption (seeds). Hemp seeds are considered by many to be a superfood; being rich in essential fatty acids, a good source of protein and contain high amounts of vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulphur, calcium, iron and zinc.
Cannabis plants are mostly dioecious – having male and female flowers on separate plants.
Cannabinoid compounds are found throughout nature but at least 85 are found in cannabis. Some, called endocannabinoids, are naturally produced in our bodies. These compounds stimulate the cannabinoid receptors found throughout your body. A good functioning endocannabinoid system is good for your health. An important endocannabinoid is anandamide – also know as the bliss molecule. Now THC and cannabidiol mimic the action of anandamide, meaning they bind with cannabinoid receptors and activate your neurons. This causes the unusual effects on your mind and body.
THC is the main active compound found in the oils produced from resin glands on the plant. This sweet smelling resin is what many marijuana growers get so excited about. It is found in it’s highest concentration exuding from the female flower.
CBD is a type of cannabinoid and a very exciting one indeed because many studies have shown it to have potent healing effects on the body including a neuroprotective effect. Here are some of the suggested benefits:
- reduces the intoxicating effects of THC, such as memory impairment and paranoia.
- counteracts the sleep-inducing effects of THC
- reduces nausea
- supresses seizures
- has anti-inflammatory properties
- combats anxiety and depression disorders (quite ironic this one)
- exhibits an anti-tumour action
THC vs CBD
All cannabis plants contain both these compounds but importantly in different ratios. Medical marijuana contains relatively higher amounts of CDB and less of THC (or at least it should) – giving less of the deleterious side effects.
In the olden days, when people grew their own marijuana, the strains or varieties had a “good” balance of THC and CBD. I say “good” because people would not only get their high from the THC, but also potentially get the benefits of the CDB – the important neuroprotective effects mentioned.
The super strains of marijuana created from cross breeding available today, such as the “skunk” varieties, have a much higher ratio of THC to CBD. This is why such strains have been implicated in exacerbating the mental health problems associated with smoking.