The more we learn about the cannabis plant, the more we discover what a truly amazing plant it really is. Of course those in the cannabis community have been telling the world this for many years… it’s just that now the rest of the world is starting to listen!
As scientists unlock the mysteries of marijuana, and come to understand how the cannabis plant works, new doors open on how we can use it as a medicine. Key to cannabis’s medical effectiveness is the chemical compounds produced by its flowers, known as cannabinoids, and we are learning more about their unique powers all the time.
What make cannabinoids special is that they appear to mirror the endocannabinoids produced by the human body which help to maintain the health and harmony of our body systems. By harnessing the power of cannabinoids, medicine can theoretically be developed to address faults in our personal endocannabinoid systems, therefore treating medical conditions.
How many cannabinoids are there?
The most well known cannabinoids are THC (Tetrahydrocannabinoid) and CBD (Cannabidiol), but they are just two compounds of many. How many? Let’s just say that science is still discovering new cannabinoids. Dr David Meiri, from Techion, told a Cannatech audience that his lab in Israel had detected 144 cannabinoids in their research!
Through scientific research more is becoming known about these individual compounds and what particular qualities they have that are useful for medicine. In many cases, particular combinations of cannabis compounds have proved to be even more effective as a medical aid. Some other well known cannabinoids include CBC (Cannabichromene), CBN (Cannabinol), CBG (Cannabigerol) and THCv (Tetrahydrocannabivarin):
CBC - Like CBD, this is a non-psychoactive compound (it won’t get you high). It has been researched for its anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and anti-depressant qualities and a 2013 study suggests that it even encourages the growth of new brain cells.
CBN – Italian studies have indicated that CBN has antibiotic qualities (with resistance to MRSA infections), while its stimulation of endorphins makes it effective (like THC) as a pain reliever. Lab tests in California also claim it is as effective a sedative as Valium.
CBG – This compound has been the source of much interest in scientific research circles. It has significant antibiotic and anti-fungal powers and its pain relief properties are said to be stronger than THC and CBN.
THCv – This is one of the compounds being researched for its effectiveness as an anticonvulsant to reduce seizures caused by epilepsy. It has also been shown to counter the psychoactive effects of THC, therefore offering potential as a counter to cannabis induced psychosis.
Early days in Cannabinoid Research
With each scientific study on the role of cannabinoids, we understand a little more. The good news is that as time goes on, science understands more about how cannabinoids can be most effective. The not so good news is there is still a way to go before our understanding is complete.
To give an example, addressing the Cannatech audience, Dr Meiri speaks about his lab’s research and the quest to discover how to successfully target specific illnesses with the most effective cannabinoid combination. He speaks of how 3 types of cancerous cell (breast, colon and prostrate) grown in the lab were treated with cannabis. The result was that in 2 of the cancers the cannabis had a positive effect (eg killing cancer cells) while in the third it didn’t.
His conclusion? “There is no such thing as ‘cannabis’ is good for cancer.” Every strain of cannabis is in fact a different medicine and therefore the task is to find which strain/compounds work for each specific illness. If what he is proposing is correct, a generic cannabis extract (composed of different strains or batches) may not be effective if it does not contain the relevant balance of cannabinoids to treat a specific condition.
In line with wider developments in medicine, the future of cannabis based medicine would appear to depend on the personalization of treatment – finding the right combination of cannabinoids to treat particular conditions. As we understand more about these cannabis compounds, that could unlock new doors for the application of medical cannabis.