As a society, we’re trained to understand three types of cannabis – indica, sativa, and hemp. This is a bit of misconception. What matters more than a plant’s genetics is the terpene and terpenoid ratios in it.
Why We Focus on Indica and Sativa
Hemp has minimal to no THC in it and is grown mostly for industrial uses. Sativa is known for the head high, whereas indica is known for the body buzz (and couch lock).
These generalizations are a result of the plant’s legal status and the inability of researchers to obtain cannabis to properly test. With recent developments in D.C. temporarily halting spending on federal marijuana enforcement (in medicinal states anyway), the U.S. is on a path toward a new understanding of both cannabis and drugs in general.
Soon, research will help us understand more about cannabis, but there have already been a few promising studies in states where marijuana has been made recreationally and medically legal.
We now know indica and sativa isn’t the best way to group marijuana products (though dispensaries still routinely do so). Instead, it’s important to understand the terpene and terpenoid ratio.
Terpenes and Terpenoids
The two major chemicals focused on in the discussion of marijuana are THC and CBD, which are only two of over 80 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. There are multiple forms of both THC and CBD though, and each has a different effect on the body, making it effective for treating different ailments.
Our bodies include an endocannabinoid system, which is involved in a variety of physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory. As part of this system, cannabinoid receptors are designed to change your brain’s electrical patterns when cannabinoid proteins are introduced to the cell receptors.
Ligands for these receptors include endocannabinoids that occur naturally in animals, phytocannabinoids that occur naturally in plants, and synthetic cannabinoids, such as those used to create K-2 Spice.
When we ingest pot, THC and CBD are among the phytocannabinoids we’re consuming, and the ratios of these and the plant’s terpene profile determine the flower’s taste, smell, and the effects on our bodies.
Extracting Essential Oils
Although the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant are unique to the cannabis plant, many of the other terpenes are found in other plants as well. These terpenes (also known as hydrocarbons) are a major component of a plant’s essential oils.
Essential oils like coconut oil are commonly used to dilute marijuana concentrates, which are essential oils extracted from the cannabis plant. Many labs, like Evoxe Labs, whose disposable vape pen line I previously reviewed) blend essential oils using Ayurvedic-style recipes to create homeopathic cannabis-infused vape concoctions.
Organizations like Evoxe Labs study the terpene profile of various plants and work with essential oil extractors to learn which chemicals create which moods in the human body.
Unfortunately, the average consumer doesn’t have access to cannabis testing facilities capable of determining the cannabinoid profile of any particular strain, much less a complete terpene profile. It won’t be until full federal rescheduling and decriminalization that we can know for sure.
We’re still in the wild west until then.
Popular Cannabinoids Found in Cannabis
Though we now know about cannabinoids and are beginning to learn their effects, the medicinal benefits haven’t been thoroughly tested yet. The combinations and ratios are important to treat certain symptoms, and over the next few years, researchers will have a better understanding of how to use these phytocannibinoids
CBD acts as an antagonist at both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, yet it has a low binding affinity for both. CBD is known to be anxiolytic, antipsychotic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antioxydant, and antispasmodic. Many seed banks and breeders are pushing for high-CBD strains, due to its medicinal properties and the surge in demand. Cannabis sativa strains typically contain no THC.
CBDA (Cannabidiolic Acid)
CBDA, similar to THCA, is the main constituent in cannabis indicas. CBDA selectively inhibits the COX-2 enzyme, contributing to cannabis’ anti-inflammatory effects. It’s also known to have antibiotic properties (as do most essential oils).
CBC is a known anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antifungal, and analgesic compound. It’s also been said to inhibit cell growth in tumor/cancer cells, and promote bone growth. The effects of CBC on our bodies aren’t related to cannabinoid receptors.
CBG is a low-affinity antagonist at the CB1 receptor, and like CBC is an anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antifungal, and analgesic. CBG can drastically alter the effects of a cannabis plant when interacting with other cannabinoids.
CBN is produced from the degradation of THC and can be psychoactive. CBN acts as a weak agonist at both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, with greater affinity for CB2. CBN ia a sedative and anticonvulsant, helping relieve seizures and responsible for couch lock.
Like THCV, CBDV differs from CBD only by the substitution of a pentyl for a propyl sidechain. By activating TRPV1 receptors, CBDV is suspected to be the component of cannabis that helps treat epilepsy.
THC is the most abundant and well-known cannabinoid in marijuana, responsible for the head high associated with smoking weed. THC acts as a partial agonist at the CB1 and CB2 receptors and is known to be a euphoriant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiemetic.
THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid)
THCA converts to Δ9-THC (which is similar to THC, but less intense) when burned, vaporized, or heated to a certain temperature. Acidic cannabinoids like THCA hold the most COX-1 and COX-2 inhibition, creating the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis. THCA is also an antiproliferative and antispasmodic chemical.
The only structural difference between THCV and THC is the presence of a propyl, rather than a pentyl group, on the molecule. THCV acts as an antagonist at the CB1 receptor and a partial agonist at the CB2 receptor. It createsc a reduction in panic attacks, suppression of appetite, and the promotion of bone growth.
Terpenes, Terpenoids, Flavanoids, and Other Compounds Found in Cannabis
The below is a partial list of other chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. These are not unique to the cannabis plant. For more information on these compounds, click the link to check out a cannabis research
Myrcene – Limonene – Linalool – trans-Ocimene – beta-Pinene – alpha-Pinene – beta-Caryophyliene – delta-3-Carene – trans-gamma-Bisabolene – beta-Fenchol – trans-alpha-Farnesene – beta-Phellandrene – alpha-Humulene – Guajol – alpha-Gualene – alpha-Eudesmol – Terpinolene – alpha-Selinene – alpha-Terpineol – Fenchone Camphene
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has appeared in High Times, Cannabis Now, Huffington Post, Fast Company, Lifehack, Main Street, and Hardcore Droid.