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Cannabis has been part of the human journey for most of our known existence. It has coexisted symbiotically with us as far back as 2,900 B.C. The plant spread far and wide across the globe as we migrated. Originating in central Asia and spreading to every continent for a multitude of reasons. The stalk of the cannabis plant provides strong fiber to make textiles, paper, and even houses. The seeds provide humans with a source of food and even biodiesel. The leaves and flowers contain molecules that are used religious ceremonies, recreational use, and medicine. These molecules are known as cannabinoids.

What is a cannabinoid?


The definition of a cannabinoid is vague, however there is a general consensus on what would be required to define a molecule as a cannabinoid. The most accepted definition is that they are small, mainly carbon, molecules which bind or interact with cannabinoid receptors throughout the body. This interaction is referred to as a “lock and key” because only specific molecules can interact with certain receptors. With cannabinoids, they possess the special quality to interact specifically with cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoids key can thought of as the “key” that fits into the “lock” being the cannabinoid receptors.  This includes derivatives of these molecules that interact with the human body in other ways, such as the acidic group of cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA).


Are there different types of cannabinoids?


Currently four different types of cannabinoids have been identified. The first type is endogenous or endocannabinoids. These cannabinoids are produced naturally in the body and include cannabinoids such as anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2AG). The second type are phytocannabinoids: cannabinoids specifically produced by the cannabis plant. Examples include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN). The third are a group called exogenous cannabinoids which are cannabinoids produced elsewhere in nature. This does encompass the cannabis plant but includes plants such as salvia divinorum that produces salvia divinorum a, which is a cannabinoid. Lastly, there is a group known as synthetic cannabinoids, which are man-made cannabinoids. This group includes drugs such as Rimonabant, Taranabant, and K-2.

There are hundreds of different cannabinoids known currently. What is even more interesting is that over one hundred thirteen of them have been discovered just in the cannabis plant. Each cannabinoid has different effects with cannabinoid receptors as well as other receptors located in the body.


Various cannabinoids interact with the CB1 receptor. Image from the Crystal Structure of the Human Cannabinoid Receptor CB1

Why are cannabinoids important?


Cannabinoids have been in the use of medicine for centuries. It is not until recently, however, we have been able to identify their structure and interaction with the human body. The work that has been completed so far shows their potential to replace many pharmaceuticals as a viable source of treatment for numerous diseases. These small molecules have also shown great potential to treat previously deemed untreatable diseases. If you have ever thought about trying cannabinoids to treat your medical ailment, contact a physician. Although this industry and field may be relatively new, most doctors are versed in some type of form of it and can help guide you to see if cannabinoids are right for you. 

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