Within the leafy, fragrant plant that we know as cannabis, compounds called cannabinoids reside and give the plant its numerous effects. While there is a fair amount of dispute over exactly how many of these cannabinoids comprise the cannabis plant, with estimates being anywhere between dozens and one hundred-plus, there are some things that we do know about some of these compounds. Many are present in such small amounts that it is difficult for researchers to learn about them, much less what role they play in America’s favorite plant.
Today we focus on cannabinoid acids and the role of three of the lesser-known compounds found in cannabis.
The Role of Cannabinoid Acids
We’ve all heard of THC-the psychoactive component of cannabis that gets you high. But did you know that the cannabis plant doesn’t directly make it itself? The same is true of CBD, the compound found within cannabis that is used therapeutically all over the nation in the treatment of seizures and other ailments. To create THC and CBD, the plant synthesizes numerous cannabinoid acids. When heat is applied to these acids, like when you apply flame to your ganja pipe, a process called decarboxylation occurs-and that is what brings out the famous THC and CBD.
The application of heat removes the “A” from the cannabinoid acid, and they turn into neutral-rather than acidic-plant cannabinoids. That’s how THCA becomes THC.
THCA and CBDA are the abundant cannabinoid acids responsible for these two well-known compounds, but there are numerous others present and identified in the cannabis plant as well:
- CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)
- THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
- CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)
- CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid)
- CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid)
- THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid)
- CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid)
- CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid)
Most of these acids have no hand to play in getting high. So what are the purposes of these numerous acids? Well, many researchers believe that they exist to protect the plant itself, as antibiotic and insecticidal properties are associated with them.
What is THCV and Can it get you High?
As our current level of knowledge stands, THC is the only component in cannabis that produces the psychoactive high that we know and love. However, there have been recent studies indicating that perhaps THCV (or tetrahydrocannabivarin) might possess some of these effects, too. Like most other cannabinoids, THCV is present in cannabis in only a very minute amount.
In the 1960s, researchers began isolating and identifying the different compounds found within cannabis, with THCV appearing for the first time in a paper penned in the 1970s. As one might expect, the bulk of their focus was on understanding the definitely (as in, we know for sure) psychoactive THC.
As you can guess from its name, THCV is closely related to THC-the difference being a matter of fewer carbon atoms. This is called an “analogue”: Similar, but different in a way that is very important to the understanding of the plant.
As you can see from the image above, THCV basically has the same form as THC, but with the end “snipped off.”
THC is referred to as a CB1 receptor agonist, meaning that it activates CB1 receptors in the brain. This allows for the euphoric high that we feel when we light up. Early studies have suggested that THCV can in fact carry these same psychoactive properties, but at a significantly smaller potency (about 20% when compared to THC). In fact, where things really get interesting is when the different doses of THCV are studied.
At lower does, THCV actually seems to act as a CB1 antagonist. Simply stated, it won’t get you high. When you dial up the dose, however, the behavior of the molecule changes. It becomes a CB1 agonist, much like THC. It’s worth noting that it would require a lot more THCV to obtain the same kind of psychoactive response that THC provides.
How Would a THCV High Differ from a THC High?
What little knowledge that we have about THCV suggests that the psychoactive effects of this molecule in high doses can be clear-headed and stimulating. When paired with THC, it has been said to augment the high from the more potent compound. But it doesn’t appear to last nearly as long. In fact, the duration of a THCV high is about half of that achieved with THC.
Most people likely won’t ever experience a high with THCV alone. After all, it is a minor cannabinoid that is found in very small amounts inside of the cannabis plant. Some higher-THCV strains do exist, but in those cases it is not enjoyed on its own. To bolster its psychoactive effects, these strains are often used in conjunction with THC and other cannabinoids.
“The munchies” are one side effect of THC that many of us are familiar with, but THCV actually seems to cause the opposite effect. In studies conducted with mice, the subjects displayed less hunger, and actually lost weight. When it came to obese mice, researchers noted an insulin resistance formed by those introduced to THCV, and has prompted researchers to look into how this compound can potentially help those afflicted with diabetes.
Unfortunately, there is not much concrete information about THCV out there yet, but many researchers have seen the potential in its application and strive to elevate our understanding of what it is, and how it works.
Another lesser-known cannabinoid that is believed to have numerous therapeutic properties is Cannabichromene, or CBC. CBC is the third-most commonly found cannabinoid (behind THC and CBD), and like CBD it is non-psychoactive. It binds poorly to the cannabinoid receptors found in the human body.
CBC and how it Works with Other Cannabinoids
In certain strains of cannabis, the presence of CBC might actually overpower the presence of CBD, and the two actually share a significant number of similarities.
Research conducted in 2010 revealed that CBC works at its best when combined with THC, which reinforces some researchers’ belief that the cannabinoids within cannabis work together, synergistically. But on its own, what does CBD do?
It is most well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties, but current research suggests that CBC may have anti-tumor properties as well. CBC has also undergone some examination into its effectiveness at fighting depression.
When operating on its own, CBC doesn’t seem to pack that much of a punch in terms of helping the above-listed conditions. But when paired with more powerful cannabinoids, such as CBD, its effects heighten and become amplified.
How CBC Works Within the Body
Like the conversion from THCA to THC, CBCA becomes CBC after being exposed to heat. When ingested, it cannot bind to the cannabinoid receptors found within our bodies: the CB1 and CB2 receptors. That’s why it won’t get you high-it simply can’t.
That being said, CBC does bind well to other receptors. These receptors are the vanilloid receptor 1 (TRPV1) and the transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1). When CBC activates these receptors, it can actually increase the body’s levels of endocannabinoids-by slowing down the natural processes that degrade them in the first place.
So while CBC cannot directly act upon cannabinoid receptors, it can certainly increase the receptor activity of naturally-occurring cannabinoids. There has also been research indicating that CBC could help in brain growth.
Another cannabinoid with properties believed to help the brain is CBN, or cannabidnol.
CBN and its Many Applications
CBN comes into play when your weed has gone a bit stale. Over time, THCA breaks down and assists in the creation of CBN-especially when left out in the open air for too long.
This non-psychoactive cannabinoid’s effects have been linked to the relief of symptoms in:
- Lou Gehrig’s Disease (or ALS)
- Appetite loss
- Persistent pain
Is CBN Psychoactive?
Yes, CBN is a psychoactive component of cannabis, but its potency is nowhere near that of THC. That is why strains with a high percentage of THC are preferred over those with a high percentage of the CBN cannabinoid. When a strain does contain a large amount of this cannabinoid, it is known to produce a feeling of grogginess, which is effective for those who struggle with insomnia or even occasional sleeplessness. These sedating effects can be helpful to those who suffer from muscle spasms as well, as well as anxiety.
The information above is not, by any stretch, a comprehensive list of all of the cannabinoids found in cannabis. That article would be incredibly long and filled with admissions of how little is yet known about so many of them. The three listed above-THCV, CBC and CBN-are the most understood at this time, as well as the most commonly-occurring compounds (after THC and CBD, of course).
Photo by Jurassic Blueberries