Cannabis science for beginners
As public acceptance of cannabis continues to spread and more states allow for recreational sales, restrictions on researching the plant have begun to ease and we’re now learning more about cannabis than ever before.
With all this new research, seasoned cannasseurs as well as newcomers to the community may feel overwhelmed by the ever-growing supply of information at their disposal. From “cannabinoids” to “terpenes” to the “entourage effect” — for some, these are unfamiliar and confusing terms. It doesn’t help that there are still many unknowns and misconceptions about each of them. However, there is much we do know, and we at MCR Labs are here to share that knowledge.
Let’s start with cannabinoids, perhaps the most well-known set of chemical compounds found in cannabis. There are lots of them — at least 113 researchers know of, to be exact. Each of these compounds is capable of interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system to create a different physiological response, dependent on the person and dosage. The most famous cannabinoid is THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol. It’s the primary psychoactive element in the plant and studies have shown it can be beneficial in treating symptoms related to a variety of conditions, including bipolar disorder, crohn’s disease, and bone diseases.
Another popular cannabinoid is CBD, short for cannabidiol. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound with its own host of benefits, including anti-inflammatory, anti-depressive, and even antidiabetic properties. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the cannabinoid is evidence that CBD-rich extracts may help reduce seizures in patients treating epilepsy.
While cannabinoids usually receive most of the credit for the plant’s medicinal benefits, there is an abundance of research showing terpenes likely play a role as well. Terpenes are the compounds that give different cannabis chemotypes (i.e. strains) their distinctive smell. They’re found in a wide array of fruits, spices, and other vegetation, and are the source of most essential oils. Bisabolol, caryophyllene, and myrcene are the most common terpenes found in cannabis, and all come with their own medicinal properties. Bisabolol has been found to be an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, while studies show caryophyllene can be beneficial in treating symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease and seizures caused by neuroinflammation. Myrcene, on the other hand, may simply enhance the effects of other compounds making it easier for them to permeate the blood brain barrier.
However, it’s important to understand that each compound will affect a person differently. Every attempt to assess a body’s response to cannabis consumption must take into account cannabinoids, terpenes and each person’s unique endocannabinoid system. The combined interaction of all of these factors is known as the entourage effect.
A good example of the entourage effect in practice is the relationship between THC and CBD. The limited research available suggests that CBD may help curb some of the undesirable effects associated with THC. Researchers think this could be a result of CBD blocking certain endocannabinoid receptors, but it’s hard to be certain without additional studies to investigate.
In the end, it will continue to be difficult to assess how cannabis may or may not affect patients and recreational users without sufficient research. For now, the best approach is to track the effects of each product, along with the cannabinoids and terpenes present and use that data along with what limited research may exist for each unique compound to inform future product choices.