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Cannabinoids in Hemp: Chemistry of Cannabis

September 08, 2020

cannabinoids in hemp

For many years, treating health conditions with cannabis caused much controversy. However, in recent times there has been an increasing number of new information from research papers providing insight into cannabis’ results with more medical professionals now recommending medicinal marijuana and hemp products when in contact with clients and patients.

Phytocannabinoids is the name given to cannabinoids that come from plants. Endocannabinoids are essentially cannabinoids made within the body. These plant-based cannabinoids are unique in content related to the cannabis plant and occur in a wide variety of types.

You'll learn more about the cannabinoids in hemp and its chemistry throughout this article, including the difference between industrial hemp oil and full spectrum hemp oil.

Although when most people consider cannabis they think of the potential of THC; the psychoactive cannabinoid, but there are many more cannabinoids that have their own value, without eliciting a psychotropic effect upon the user. 

In fact, the hemp plant is considered to be the non-psychoactive variety of cannabis because most countries that have legalized hemp have done so under legislation that allows a maximum of 0.3% THC only to be present in the crop. Hemp is mostly considered to be a food and industrial crop, often grown for hemp seeds with its nutrient rich profile of fatty acids, with the more fiberous material being used as livestock feed or in textiles and construction. See our article on hemp uses for more on this.

Phytocannabinoids are inherently different from endocannabinoids. Besides from being made by plants and not within the body, they act upon the body’s systems in a similar way to our own endocannabinoids.

Unlike endocannabinoids, cannabinoids from plants work across the body every time through the phytocannabinoid system. The question then becomes, well, why are phytocannabinoids never lethal?

Some seem to believe it is because there aren’t any endocannabinoid receptors in the brainstem, but that doesn’t cover why drugs that are of synthetic nature designed to block or enhance the endocannabinoid system have killed or caused severe psychiatric, brain and cardiac damage.

You can learn more about the endocannabinoid system in part 1 and part 2 of our article series on this incredible healing system of physiology inside the body.

We believe, more than likely, that the immense complexity of our own endocannabinoid system, and co-evolution of both systems, has positively affected the genome and DNA make up of each.

Is hemp used for CBD?

CBD is found in hemp at concentrations of roughly 0.5 to 2.0% in the flowers and upper area of the plant although most industrial hemp is used for food, textiles, building materials, apparel, paint, paper and plastics, not as medicine.

Cannabidiol (abbreviated as CBD), was initially mislabeled as an ‘inactive cannabinoid’ when researchers began researching cannabis for its psychoactive effects. They discovered that not only was CBD inactive as a psychotropic, but that it also wasn’t directly active on CB1 or CB2 receptors when they were discovered more than sixty years later.

is hemp used for cbd

Instead, CBD works indirectly, stimulating the body’s endocannabinoid system by blocking the FAAH enzyme responsible for breaking down anandamide. When anandamide is present in the body for longer, there is a significantly greater activation of the CB1 receptors and a more vital endocannabinoid system.

CBD also has the ability to bind to various receptor sites in the brain, including serotonin 5HT1A (this contributes to its antidepressant effects), TRPV1 (anti psychoactive), the nuclear receptor PPAR-gamma (regulates gene expression), and the orphan receptor GRP55 (contributing to CBD’s anti-cancer and osteoprotective effects), among many others.

https://www.projectcbd.org/science/cbd-really-non-psychoactive

How many cannabinoids are there in hemp?

At the time of this article, over 400 cannabinoids have been identified, with over 130 over them coming from the hemp plant, a variety of cannabis. Yet, unfortunately, we only understand just some of the pharmacological effects of these. About 10 percent, in fact.

Over the last decade, research surrounding cannabinoids has exploded, with over seven thousand medical papers published on endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids in peer reviewed medical journals such as PubMed, which you can freely access online with a quick search.

Quick tip: if you're wanting to investigate how cannabinoids can help with a specific condition or ailment, simply run a quick Google search with: ["condition" cannabinoids pubmed], then scroll to the bottom of the research paper and read the scientists conclusion on the subject. You'll find several science-backed answers without fluff or bias this way.

What are the benefits of cannabinoids

The benefits of cannabinoids run far and wide including anti-cancer, antiemetic, immunosuppressive, antipsychotic, antibacterial, bone stimulant and much more. The below terms show some of the best currently identified pharmacologic activity of phytocannabinoids. 

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): anti-cancer, anti- and pro-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, analgesic, anti-oxidant, anxiolytic and anxiogenic, antiemetic (nausea and vomiting), anti-epileptic, neuroprotective, hedonic, euphoriant, sleep promoting
  • Cannabidiol (CBD): anti-cancer, antiemetic (nausea and vomiting), anti-proliferative, antiinflammatory, antibacterial, anti-diabetic, anti-diarrheal, anti-psoriatic, analgesic, immunosuppressive, bone stimulant, anti-ischemic, vasorelaxant, antispasmodic, neuroprotective, anti-epileptic, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, transforms white fat into brown fat, increases anandamide activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors.
  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV): bone stimulant, appetite suppression, anti-epileptic, anti-diabetic, anti-lipidemia
  • Cannabigerol (CBG): antibacterial, anti-proliferative
  • Cannabichromene (CBC): analgesic, bone stimulant, antiinflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-proliferative, anti-fungal
  • Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA): anti-proliferative, antiinflammatory, anti-cancer, antiemetic (nausea and vomiting)
  • Tetrahydrocannabinolic (THCA): antispasmodic, anti-proliferative, pleasure, analgesic, mild euphoria, wellbeing, antiinflammatory, antiemetic (nausea and vomiting), neuroprotective
  • Cannabidivarin (CBDV): bone stimulant
  • Cannabinol (CBN): antiinflammatory, analgesic, anti-cancer

Data source:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19729208/

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-59259-947-9_2

https://bpspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/bph.12316

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22571976/

When looking at the above it becomes increasingly clear that denying the medicinal value of phytocannabinoids is somewhat of a political act, not a scientific determination. Phytocannabinoids play a complex, multidimensional role with the body’s endocannabinoid system.

Breeders of cannabis have been developing high-THC strains of the plant, but they’ve also been developing low-THC and high-CBD strains. As you can see in the above bullets, THC does have therapeutic benefits, however too much of the compound can cause anxiety, paranoia and increased inflammation.

The right dose of cannabinoids, in the right ratio’s needs to be the focus of medical treatments and interventions, with a particular study of the spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes utilized in a blend tailored for the specific condition.

Even with the case of high-THC blends, careful titration mixed with careful planning of the medication delivery route and timing, balancing the phytocannabinoid profiles, and customizing individual treatment can limit or eliminate the “high” experienced by users.

is hemp and cbd the same thing

Cannabis can be ingested in a variety of ways and doesn’t need to be smoked. Many numerous plant strains have been bred for multiple purposes, and the phytocannabinoid profiles of these plants can be mixed and matched to create a treatment as varied as the endocannabinoid and phytocannabinoid systems.

We are born with DNA that determines our genetic makeup. As early as implantation of the fertilized egg, our genome changes, influenced by the uterine environment. Called an epigenetic change, it occurs on the surface of the genes throughout our lives. While we have consciously altered the genome of cannabis, it has changed the epigenetics of humans as well. Epigenetic changes are inheritable, and over five thousand years of use has led to changes in the human genome of users and non-users of cannabis alike.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4973776/

Is hemp and CBD the same thing?

There are 421 identified chemical compounds in cannabis / hemp, however 100 of which are phytocannabinoids. Hemp and CBD are not the same thing. CBD is a compound found inside the hemp plant. Most of the testing of this system has been with refined THC and more recently refined CBD.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25315390/

The compounds in cannabis that are not cannabinoids are known as terpenes, flavonoids, and phenols, which can be found throughout a large range of different plant species (see our article What Are Terpenes for more on the medicinal effects of terpenes found in cannabis).

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2016.00019/full

While the phytocannabinoids are unique to the cannabis plant itself, the interaction of those phytocannabinoids with these non-cannabinoid compounds found throughout the plant world actually enhance the wide-ranging effects of cannabis on the body through what is known as the “entourage effect.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/

Another important aspect to note of phytocannabinoids, is that they work best in a full spectrum or as plant based extracts than they do isolated, synthesized or refined products such as CBD oil, which is an isolated product cornered by the pharmaceutical industry in some countries and legal for over the counter sale in others.

For example, refined THC’s psychotropic effects are partially modified and quite significantly decreased when combined with high CBD levels, in other words, CBD has the ability to neutralize the side effects of THC. When treating the spasticity of multiple sclerosis, the 1:1 ratio of CBD with THC was more effective than either pure THC or pure CBD.

This is the main difference between regular hemp seed oil and full spectrum. Hemp seed oil is made by cold pressing the hemp seeds, whereas full spectrum in most countries is typically made by adding cannabinoids, terpenes and fatty acids from the hemp plant into the blend.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25315390/

In another study, researchers found high THC in a plant extract reversed the actual disease progression of multiple sclerosis, but CBD in a plant extract did not do so. In an incredibly detailed study done by researchers in Israel in 2015 found that pure CBD was shown consistently to have a very narrow dose range, below which or above where it was ineffective for the treatment of pain and inflammation, while providing relief in the narrow dose range.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24671907/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26590655/

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273352080_Overcoming_the_Bell-Shaped_Dose-Response_of_Cannabidiol_by_Using_Cannabis_Extract_Enriched_in_Cannabidiol

CBD-enriched whole-plant extract, with very low levels of THC, cannabichromene (CBC), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabidivarin (CBDV), and cannabinol (CBN), improved as an antiinflammatory and pain reliever as the dose was increased and was far more effective than pure CBD. In effect, THC acts as a catalyst that makes CBD work better.

The key lesson here is that different cannabinoids have very different effects, and even trace amounts of phytocannabinoids have “entourage effects” that vary with different diseases or even with different aspects of the same disease.

When we remember that there are still well over three hundred non-cannabinoid substances in cannabis, we realize their synergy can help with effects from anti-inflammatory to activity tolerability.

THC is by far, the most potent analgesic, with the main analgesic effects being due to the activation of the CB1 receptor in the brain. It also has the ability to decrease signaling from the sensory part of the brain to the emotional part of the brain, reducing pain by disconnecting the sensations of hurt from its emotional impact upon the person.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3339795/

This is an extremely important effect because it is the emotional component of painful sensations, anxiety and depression that connects aspects of chronic pain to a person’s sense of self. THC is also anti-inflammatory in the body and brain, where THC attaches to CB2 receptors in the brain and body producing an antiinflammatory response. THC also works on a few non-cannabinoid receptors to reduce inflammation and painful sensations. This brings more quiet and peace to run-away nerve firing and transforms chronic pain back to normal pain.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4832029/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165957/

Perhaps most important of all of THC’s effects is that, like anandamide, it blocks the inflammatory effects of nerve cell accumulation of beta amyloid and clears the cell of inflammatory processes that usually destroy the cell within four days.

https://www.nature.com/articles/npjamd201612

High-THC medical cannabis has been shown to be effective for treating cancer chemotherapy side effects, including chemotherapy-induced peripheral nerve pains, vomiting, and inflammation. There is also mountain evidence that THC itself destroys cancer cells, limits tumor growth, and unmasks the tumor to detection and destruction by the immune system.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3131949/

We hope you've enjoyed this article on the cannabinoids in hemp and if you would like to learn more about the chemistry of this magical plant check out our research backed posts over on our blog.

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