The Physiology of Cannabis
While we use the slang words, marijuana, hemp, weed, grass, pot or dope to describe this plant, I always encourage people to refer to it only by its true name; cannabis. In my mind, anything but cannabis is a derogatory word for this very giving plant.
Cannabis is not a magic pill. It doesn’t work for everyone. But millions are finding relief for hundreds of conditions and complaints as has been done for thousands of years across many cultures globally. The reason is that our bodies are made for it. So why exactly does cannabis work for so many people and for so many conditions?
To fully understand, it is important to understand the physiology of the cannabis plant and how it interacts with our Endocannabinoid System (ECS).
• The cannabis plant is made up of hundreds of compounds, including cannabinoids such as Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). And also, Cannabinol (CBN), Cannabigerol (CBG) and Cannabichromene (CBC) to name a few. There are more than 140 characterized cannabinoids in a typical cannabis plant.
• Terpenes are chemical compounds, naturally present in plants and they contribute to the plants’ unique taste, smell and color. They are the substances that affect our senses and trigger pleasant emotions. Terpenes work in combination with cannabinoids and dictate how cannabis affects us mentally and physically.
• Flavonoids are also present in cannabis; these are phyto-nutrients which we also find in spinach and kale, for example. In addition, flavonoids modulate the effects of THC.
Three of the most commonly found cannabinoids in cannabis are THC, CBD and CBN.
THC is the most well known and most psychoactive. THC can reduce pain, temper muscle spasms, help us sleep, stimulate our appetite, reduce intraocular pressure and much more. Because it is psychoactive, or causes us to be “high” it is the most talked about cannabinoid.
CBD is a non-psychoactive compound, with potent anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-anxiety properties. It has the bonus of tempering the intoxicating effects of THC, among other benefits.
CBN is mildly psychoactive, but highly sedative. This is the cannabinoid responsible for that heavy, stoned feeling.
I meet many people who say to me “
Robbin, I want the medical kind of marijuana, not the kind that gets you high”.
I use the opportunity to explain that there isn’t a separate plant that is medical only. The compounds such as THC and CBD come from the same plant. It’s the genetics and how the growers and manufacturers develop their products –and- how the consumer goes about using it, that dictates how high you do or do not become.
This bring us to why cannabis works for so many conditions. Our Endocannabionid System (ECS). Discovered in 1988 by Dr. Raphael Mecholoum, the ECS modulates and protects many physiologic pathways in the body. The ECS is essential to life and affects how we relax, eat, sleep, forget and protect.
Naturally occurring Endocannabinoids –Anadamide and 2-AG are made and released by cells on demand in response to a trigger such as illness, trauma or stress. The ECS determines how your cells try to right themselves when imbalance occurs.
The therapeutic use of cannabinoids is supported by more than 30,000 published studies on the ECS and over 9,000 patient years of clinical trial data documenting successful use of cannabis for treating a multitude of conditions.
Some good news with Prop 64, which made cannabis legal for adult use in California, is that all state-legal products must be tested for safety as well as cannabinoid and terpene profiles. As of July 1, 2018, all products must pass microbial impurities, residuals and foreign material testing. In addition, products are tested for cannabinoid ratios and this information must be made available to the consumer. Effective January 2019, terpene profile testing will also be required. This is important because as people find products that are best for their bodies, finding products with matching profiles will make that task much easier.
Adults looking to re-engage in cannabis use or explore the world of medical cannabis for the first time in their life, face unique challenges. Tune in next week when we share best practices for selecting a dispensary and products.