What the cannabinoids are?
Cannabinoids are a heterogeneous group of compounds, whose main common trait is that they bind to cannabinoid receptors. These molecules belong to the chemical class of terpenophenols and are lipid molecules, meaning that they are fat soluble. We currently know three groups of cannabinoids:
- endocannabinoids: they are formed in certain circumstances in the bodies of vertebrates, including humans
- phytocannabinoids: they are present in plants (hemp, cannabis, purple coneflower, rue and certain species from the genus Apiaceae and Brassica)
- synthetic cannabinoids: they are made in chemical laboratories
Endocannabinoids are our own cannabinoids. They are formed in our bodies in the neuronal cells and serve as signaling molecules. They play a crucial bioregulatory role in our bodies and their action can best be described in these five words: eat, sleep, relax, forget and protect. Each and every cell in our body has receptors and is tuned to sense changes in the concentration of cannabinoids in its environment. Certain regions in the brain have a very high density of cannabinoid receptors, there the CB1 and CB2 receptors are the most abundant receptors of all, meaning that our brains are finely tuned to sense changes in concentrations of cannabinoids. These regulate practically every process in our bodies, i.e. fertility, fertilization, breastfeeding, development, immunity, learning, coordination, metabolism, excretion of hormones, cardiovascular system, pancreatic function …
Phytocannabinoids are plant derived cannabinoids, that are similar in structure to endocannabinoids and activate the same receptors in our bodies. They are present in diverse plant species but are most abundant in Cannabis sativa. This plant contains more than 140 cannabinoids and all together more than 1060 bioactive compounds. The ones best known, studied and also used in medicine are THC and CBD. But other cannabinoids also show amazing potential (CBN, CBG, CBC…). An increasing number of studies are confirming what has been known in practice for some time, namely that the best effects are seen when using whole plant extracts, where the whole spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes and other bioactive and non-active compounds is present, the so called entourage effect.
Synthetic cannabinoids are pure chemical compounds that are artificially made in laboratories. The majority of pharmaceutical preparations contain synthetic cannabinoids, thus making them available but experience is showing that these are significantly less effective than cannabinoids in their natural form.