Cannabinoids are a group of active compounds found in marijuana.
While marijuana contains many different compounds, cannabinoids are undeniably the most important.
Cannabinoids are responsible for marijuana’s effects on the body — and the reason users get high. They’re also the reason why medical marijuana works to alleviate so many symptom-related ailments.
However, the relationship between cannabinoids and our bodies is complex.
Because so many people use cannabis for recreational or medicinal purposes, a little information on cannabinoids can go a long way towards understanding how marijuana affects your brain and body.
Cannabis and Cannabinoids
The cannabis plant, also known as marijuana, contains over 500 natural compounds. Cannabinoids happen to make up at least 85 of those compounds, according to recent research. And while some cannabinoids are psychoactive, others are not.
Out of the 85 cannabinoids, two stand out: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC, known for its psychoactive properties, is the reason you feel buzzed after ingesting marijuana.
Most strains of marijuana sold on the market today are cultivated with higher levels of THC. While THC has medicinal benefits, too much can trigger anxiety and paranoia in some — particularly in novice users.
CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid and actually works to calm your high. It’s also believed that CBD has numerous medicinal benefits, such as anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to protect your neurons from injury or degeneration.
How Do They Work?
In the early 1990s, scientists discovered the link between cannabis and feeling high.
Your brain creates its own set of cannabinoids — similar to those found in cannabis — via the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system, named after Cannabis sativa, is responsible for many important functions, such as appetite, sleep, emotion and movement.
Cannabinoids work by interacting with specific receptors. These receptors are located within different parts of the body, such as the central nervous system and immune system.
Cannabinoids activate two types of receptors: CB1 receptors, located within the nervous system, the brain and nerve endings, and CB2 receptors, located within the immune system.
When marijuana enters your body, THC activates the endocannabinoid system by attaching to cannabinoid receptors. As a result, your reaction time slows, memory is affected, and judgment is impaired. Because of where CB1 receptors are located in the brain, you begin to feel high.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most common psychoactive cannabinoid. It is best known for causing the high you get from smoking marijuana. However, it also seems to have a number of medical applications, such as pain relief and the ability to improve appetite.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most common cannabinoid. Although it has no psychoactive effects, it appears to improve mood and alleviate pain. CBD has received a lot of attention lately because of its antipsychotic effect that calms the nervous system. Studies suggest that it may help with epilepsy, schizophrenia and a number of other ailments.
Cannabinol (CBN) is created from THC when cannabis is exposed to air — through a process called oxidization. CBN on its own provides a mild psychoactive effect, but when combined with THC can make you feel drowsy and induce sleep.
While each cannabinoids works independently, used together, they create an entourage effect, which multiplies the benefits of each individual cannabinoid.