While the buzz about tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) get most of the media coverage, their cannabinoid siblings are working hard behind the scenes and under the radar. More than 100 distinct cannabinoids (some journals report as many as 120) have been identified and isolated from cannabis strains and are already being shown to have positive effects in the treatment of life-threatening cancers, protracted ailments like glaucoma and epilepsy, and quality of life afflictions like inflammation and nausea.
Cannabinoids are a collective term for the distinct classes of compounds found naturally in the body and in the cannabis family of plants. The cannabinoids found in the human body are endocannabinoids and the ones found in plants are phytocannabinoids. The “magic” occurs when plant-based cannabinoids are introduced into the body and latched onto by the endocannabinoid system. While humans have known for many millennia of the medicinal properties found by consuming cannabis, we are still only just at the beginning of identifying how this plant and human interaction really takes place and what its potential for healing and curing diseases really is.
Cannabinoids and the Entourage Effect
The sum total of the many combinations of cannabinoids found in any species of cannabis and their respective effects, medicinal or otherwise, are part of the complexity known as the entourage effect. This effect is merely the term assigned to describe the synergy among all aspects of the cannabis plant, including all the cannabinoids. As we learn more about the numerous cannabinoids and their roles, we will be able to further decode just what happens during the entourage effect, but until then, we know that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, though we don’t know exactly why.
Read: The Entourage Effect
Effects of Lesser Known Cannabinoids
Highlights of the more commonly (besides THC and CBD) identified and studied cannabinoids and their observed effects (if known):
Cannabidivarin (CBDV) — CBDV is used as a central nervous system depressant and has been found to show anticonvulsant activity and anti-epileptic properties with fewer side effects than other currently approved anti-epileptic drugs. It is being tested for its ability to mitigate other afflictions, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Rett Syndrome, a disease affecting development and motor functions in children.
Cannabigerol (CBG) — Found most often in strains with low THC, CBG has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. It has also been shown to be effective as relief for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, and glaucoma.
Cannabigerovarin (CBGV) — CBGV may have potential to be useful in the treatment of dry-skin syndrome. Interestingly, it was trialed as an anti-acne treatment, but was found to actually increase the synthesis of basal sebaceous lipids, resulting in more acne, not less. Like its close relative CBG, CBGV is also thought to be beneficial to relieve some gastrointestinal discomfort and inflammation.
Cannabicyclol (CBL) — Confusingly, CBL is sometimes referred to as cannabipinol (CBP) and is a cannabinoid that is typically found in old, long-ago harvested, or otherwise degraded cannabis, specifically derived from the cannabinoid CBC (see below). It has not yet been extensively studied. Some trials thus far have found no appreciable effect and others allude to its potential as an anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor treatment.
Cannabinol (CBN) — CBN has been shown to have potential immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties. In lab trials it has been shown to increase appetite. This means that it could be a non-psychotropic alternative to prescribing THC to increase appetite in patients.
Cannabichromene (CBC) — CBC has been clinically shown to reduce pain and inflammation in sufferers of arthritis. It has also been proven to selectively reduce inflammation-induced gastrointestinal pain. Since 2006, CBC has been tested in conjunction with other cannabinoids as an anti-cancer and anti-tumor treatment.
Cannabicitran (CBT) — Thus far, CBT has been shown to relieve intraocular pressure in lab animals, meaning it could prove to be an effective tool in the fight against glaucoma. Like most other cannabinoids, this one still requires more investigation.
Cannabichromevarin (CBCV) — Much like CBGM is thought to assume some of the same properties as CBG, CBCV is thought to have many of the same properties as CBC. It is another cannabinoid that has been known and isolated for many decades, and not much is known about it, but it is suspected to also possess anti-inflammatory properties.
Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) — CBDA has been shown to possess an anti-proliferative effect on cancer cells and cancer-cell migration, and has been specifically shown to be effective in the fight against aggressive breast cancers.
Cannabivarin, also known as Cannabivarol (CBV) — While one of the more commonly found cannabinoids in sativa, its function is still largely unknown. It was first discovered in hashish.
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) — THCA is the most commonly found cannabinoid in cannabis and potentially has the widest range of benefits. It has been well documented and often used to treat inflammation for arthritic and joint pain. It is prescribed for sufferers of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis. It stimulates appetite and is prescribed for anorexics. It is also being carefully researched for its potential as an anti-cancer treatment.
Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) — Like THCA, a number of beneficial and therapeutic properties have been found or ascribed to THCV. It is an anti-convulsant and is sometimes used as an appetite suppressant along with being prescribed as an anti-anxiety medication. It may also help with diseases that affect motor control such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Some preliminary research suggests THCV may help with osteoporosis and diabetes, but more research is needed.
Cannabielsoin (CBE) — One of the several cannabinoids whose role is still not entirely understood, CBE is synthesized internally after CBD metabolizes. Its potential remains to be discovered.
Cannabigerol Monomethyl Ether (CBGM) — Though discovered more than 50 years ago in Japan, there is still much not known about the effects of CBGM. It is thought to have many of the same properties as CBG and has been shown to have anti-bacterial properties.
This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list. Researchers will undoubtedly identify other cannabinoids over time and will also surely discover other uses for the ones that have thus far been identified. There is still far more to learn about the medicinal and therapeutic properties of cannabinoids than what is already known. As more states and countries legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes, the flood gates should open wide for research on cannabinoids and their therapeutic benefits. The US’s own National Institute of Health (NIH) is supporting research into the possibility of cannabinoids as potential treatments for diseases of the immune system like HIV/AIDS, substance abuse disorders such as opioids, and for the treatment of numerous mental health disorders. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has additionally posted on their website promising research supporting cannabinoids as potential treatments for many types of addiction and other (non-drug related) diseases and afflictions such as obesity, wasting disease, and autoimmune disorders. Modern science and research continue to confirm what our ancestors learned thousands of years ago: cannabinoids are one of nature’s most potent and useful medicines.